Saturday, January 30, 2016

Titan and Pollyanna aka T_P are back with you

Titan and Pollyanna like to think of themselves  as retirees who are relaxing after years of hard labor and ranting. They have, in their joint persona of T_P,
Crow teepee

decided that it is not fair to their countless fans and readers to deprive them of the wisdom they can dispense. Yes, Virginia, we have a sense of the absurd.

Happy 260th  birthday this week to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria.

The Charity Corner has found a home on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action site. Titan and Pollyanna hope that you will visit there, take the actions and make the donations.


Pierre Boulez 1925-2016

Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor who helped blaze a radical new path for classical music in the 20th century, becoming one of its dominant figures in the decades after World War II, died on January 6 at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany, at the age  90. He was one of the most recognized figures in 20th century classical music. His outspoken advocacy for the music of his time earned him fans — and detractors.  French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, “Audacity, innovation, creativity —that is what Pierre Boulez was for French music, which he helped shine everywhere in the world.”

Pierre Boulez conducting in 2008. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Mr. Boulez belonged to an extraordinary generation of European composers who emerged in the postwar years while still in their 20s. They started a revolution in music, and Mr. Boulez was in the front ranks. Detailed biographies and obituaries can be found in the Guardian and the NY Times.

David Bowie 1947-2016

David Bowie (ne David Robert Jones), an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, painter and actor, died on January 10 in New York. His  persistent innovations and personal reinventions transformed him into a larger-than-life rock star.
 david bowie
 Rolling Stone has a detailed obituary and Mike Lukovich expressed very well the feeling of his bereft fans.

A memorial concert will be held at Carnegie Hall on March 31.

Alan Rickman 1946-2016 

Alan Rickman an  English actor and director, known for playing a variety of roles on stage and screen, often as a complex antagonist, died on January 14 in London.
Alan Rickman in New York last year.
Alan Rickman in New York last year. Photograph: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

His role of Severus Snape was classic, the nemesis turned tragic hero of the Harry Potter series, only hinting at the character's nobility in his final moments. His five-time costar and friend Emma Thompson echoed the sentiment of many of his colleagues. "I have just kissed him goodbye," she wrote the day he died. "What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humor, intelligence, wisdom and kindness. . . . He was the ultimate ally."
A detailed obituary can be found in the Guardian.



A new UN Report tells us that nearly 19,000 have been killed by terror and violence in a period of less than two years.
Civilians are loaded in a truck to be taken to safe places Thursday as Iraqi security forces clear the Soufiya neighborhood of Islamic State fighters in central Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq.
Civilians are loaded in a truck to be taken to safe places Thursday as Iraqi security forces clear the Soufiya neighborhood of Islamic State fighters in central Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq.
Khalid Mohammed/AP

Here are some numbers for the epoch 1.1.14 to 31.10.15:

At least 18,802: Number of civilians killed between Jan. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015

36,245: Number of civilians wounded during that same time period.

3,855: Number of civilians killed between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2015. Baghdad governorate had the highest number, at 1,875.

1,717: Number of civilians killed by improvised explosive devices between May 1 and Oct 31, 2015.

3.2 million: Number of people inside Iraq who have been forced to flee their homes from January 2014 through September of last year.

More than 1 million: Number of school-age children forced from their homes during that same time period.

Between 800 and 900: Number of children abducted from the Iraqi city of Mosul by the so-called Islamic State for "religious education and military training."

Approximately 3,500: People from the Yezidi religious minority and other ethnic and religious minorities enslaved by ISIS. "Those being held are predominantly women and children," the report says.

This is totally unacceptable and constitutes a terrible blot on the conscience of what likes to call itself the international community or family of nations. T_P demand that something be done about it by the nations that bear the responsibility. Of course, Western intervention would be labeled a neo-crusade and unite the Arab world against it, but means must be found  to enable the Muslim world to free itself from this madness.


Climate records kept by two US government agencies show that 2015 has superseded 2014 as the hottest year on record. According to the NOAA analysis on Wednesday, every month in 2015 broke previous temperature records except for two: January and April. NOAA also announced Wednesday that for December, the “temperature departure from average was also the highest departure among all months in the historical record and the first time a monthly departure has reached 2°F (1.1C).” Please read this report carefully.
As expected, the Democratic politicians showed responsibility:
The release of the 2015 temperature data prompted statements from leading Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Clinton, in a Twitter posting, said, “Climate change is real. It’s hurting our planet and our people. We can’t afford a president who ignores the science.”
The Sanders campaign also tweeted a response, saying. “Climate change is real and caused by human activity. This planet and its people are in trouble.”
There were no immediate comments from the major GOP contenders, several of whom have been openly skeptical of the mainstream scientific view that human activity is causing the planet to warm. Front-runner Donald Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax. We wonder where the Republicans got their degrees in atmospheric science.


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board announced today that the minute hand of its closely watched Doomsday Clock will remain at three minutes to midnight, since recent progress in the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord “constitute only small bright spots in a darker world situation full of potential for catastrophe.” Their bulletin states:“Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world's attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.” Food for thought for all of us and cause for dismay when we consider our leaders.


NHS sugar tax
Simon Stevens says NHS sugar tax will help fight ‘national sugar high’. Composite: The Guardian
We are all too fat and lazy and consume too much sugar. We salute Simon Stevens the head of the UK National Health Service for taking steps to reduce this by imposing a tax on it. Hospitals across England will start charging more for high-sugar drinks and snacks sold in their cafes and vending machines in an effort to discourage staff, patients and visitors from buying them, the NHS England chief executive said. Cheers say T-P.


Boy's spelling mistake in class led to a visit from the police
Spot the difference
A ten year old boy in England wrote that he lived in a terrorist house. He meant terraced, but since there are rules the teacher had to report it. You can guess what happened. Idiots are everywhere.  As John Richardson, our friend at MIT, said to us, "nothing is fool-proof because fools are so resourceful."


This issue comes up often in rape trials and other difficult situations. The Thames Valley Police have come up with a brilliant video that uses the analogy of offering tea. It provides clear instructions as to what constitutes consensual sex. Open the site and watch the video.

This new 'sexual consent and tea' video from the police is brilliant



One of the elements enshrined in the US Bill of Rights is the First Amendment guarantee of the right to assembly peaceably to petition for redress of grievances. In Israel only Jews seem to have that right. Since the government simply stalls on giving building permits to Arabs and there is a need for housing, homes are built without permits. Now that the government is trying to crack down on the Arab community to evade providing the funds appropriated for its needs, bulldozers are knocking down "illegal" houses in a wholesale manner.
Israeli Arab home in Taibeh being demolished. January 24, 2016.
Israeli Arab home in Taibeh being demolished. January 24, 2016.

When one, Ayman Hajj Yahya, posted a call on Facebook to gather to protest the demolitions, he and a friend were thrown into prison. It would be ludicrous if it were not so evil. The police even manufactured a charge of obstruction of justice, but withdrew it saying it was "in error."


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon commented Tuesday on the recent wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, saying it was part of "human nature" to react to an occupation.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York, January 26, 2016.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York, January 26, 2016. Reuters
Of course the government and its pet media reacted with screams but it makes good sense. Some day the world will get tired of us and put an end to the nonsense. Michael Sfard, the human rights lawyer, predicts that the occupation will end suddenly  as other despotic regimes have fallen in the past.
Israeli border police check a Palestinian woman's ID next to newly placed concrete blocks in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, Oct. 15, 2015.
Israeli border police check a Palestinian woman's ID next to newly placed concrete blocks in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, Oct. 15, 2015.AP
Gideon Levy disagrees with him totally and questions his analogs. Indeed when Jewish money plays an important role in US elections and Europe lacks the backbone to stand up to Israel, Levy may well be right. The Swedish Foreign Minister seems to be the only courageous politician on the continent when she calls out Israel on extrajudicial executions.


The situation for supporters of liberal democracy in Israel is rapidly becoming untenable. One pundit, Carlo Strenger,  calls for creation of a liberal autonomous region as exists de facto for ultra-orthodox and Arabs.
He writes in Haaretz: "Israeli liberals are the most disadvantaged group in the country. We carry all burdens, and get none of the extra perks. Hence, we should demand to get similar autonomy to the ultra-Orthodox, the national-religious and Israeli Arabs in the areas where secular liberals are concentrated like Tel Aviv, Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya and Haifa."  It is an interesting idea, since for liberals what is being done in our name is totally unacceptable. Avraham Burg sounds a call of defiance from the Left. Is anyone listening?

In this context, T_P welcome the rise of a liberal Zionist voice in Canada. JSpace appears to be gaining momentum and we hope it soon becomes an effective lobbying organization able to offset the right wing orientation of much of the Canadian Jewish community.


Alas, too much silliness is from the real world.  We can start with Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump. It would be funny if it were not so frightening.  Mike Lukovich puts it in perspective:


A vulture captured in Lebanon and suspected of spying for Israel because of a Tel Aviv University homing device on its leg was repatriated with the aid of the UN.

A warm welcome by UN and Israel Nature and Parks Authority personnel for a 'spy' vulture captured in Lebanon Jan. 28, 2016.
A warm welcome by UN and Israel Nature and Parks Authority personnel for a 'spy' vulture captured in Lebanon Jan. 28, 2016.Moti Dolev/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

This is not the first incident in which birds have been suspected of spying in the crazy Middle East..

WHAT IF? is back and is really funny this time.
What if you built a siphon from the oceans on Europa to Earth? Would it flow once it's set up? (We have an idea for selling bottled Europa water.)

—A group of Google Search SREs
We also share a Randalism for the physics freaks among us:

Empathy for frustrated grandparents:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Titan and Pollyanna are back, this time together

Titan and Pollyanna like to think of themselves  as retirees who are relaxing after years of hard labor and ranting. This week, however, too much has gone on and Titan and Pollyanna feel that they have to have their say as well. They have decided to  call this joint effort the T-P blog (or wigwam if you wish) although they are putting it out on the Titan site. If you have forgotten what we look like, here we are:

Image result for titan moon

Image result for pollyanna

For starters, they wish all their US friends and readers a very happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Image result for thanksgiving
The Charity Corner has found a home on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action site. Titan and Pollyanna hope that you will visit there, take the actions and make the donations.


This week's terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut by ISIS

The site of Thursday's twin suicide bombings in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut, Lebanon. Credit Bilal Hussein/Associated Press

and in Yola, Nigeria by Boko Haram, have shocked the world. Not to be undone, a branch of El Qaeda carried out a terrorist attack on a hotel in Mali. Whether all these atrocities will shock the world into any sort of real and effective action against ISIS, El Qaeda and their affiliates remains to be seen. Every pundit on the planet seems to have published his/her take on this and we can probably add very little. The Dalai Lama puts it very well:
"I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. "It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place."
Titan and Pollyanna agree and feel very strongly that we must not allow ourselves to succumb to fear and hatred. Let us quote from the well thought out article by Paul Krugman in the NYTimes:

"The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong." 

It is possible to err on both the side of application of force and appeasement, neither of which will get us any positive results. Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, admonishes the Israeli right wing to stop rejoicing in its heart over the carnage. He makes a very valid point

" The correct lesson from what happened in Paris is that there are no longer any local wars. The world cannot continue to shut its eyes in the face of what is happening in Syria, and also not in the face of the Israeli occupation. When the world pulls itself together from the shock, maybe it will also free itself from the paralysis and understand that it must harness itself to find a solution to these conflicts, both in war-­torn Syria as well as in the occupied Palestinian territories. Then let's see the Israeli right." 

It should be clear, that there is no connection between the legitimate struggle of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation and the terrorism of ISIS and its branches in Europe, Africa and anywhere. Of course that legitimate struggle does not include random stabbings of civilians. Amnesty International has strongly condemned these attacks on Israeli civilians, which have engendered major loss of life and done nothing to advance the Palestinian cause.What is obvious is that greater cooperation and coordination in the struggle against radical Islamism must involve the sane part of the Muslim world along with the West. It is also clear that much must be done to improve intelligence functioning if these attacks are to be foiled. It is indeed very difficult to stay on top of terrorist organizations. The IRA put it thus after a failed attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher in 1984:“Today we were unlucky,” the IRA said, “but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

Titan and Pollyanna are also shocked and outraged over the attitude of some American and European leaders to the multitudes of refugees from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. They are fleeing war and death and it is totally unconscionable to refuse them just because a Syrian passport was found on the body of a terrorist in Paris. The passport may well have been planted to generate the backlash.  Cheers Mr. Kristof.
Mike Lukovich puts it well:



Pollyanna and Titan would like to share with you the reaction of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo to the attacks in Paris. It puts things into perspective very well.


Burundi has been shaken by months of violence, which began when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided in April to run for an unconstitutional  third term. He won a disputed and widely boycotted election in July. Last week, the UN Security Council asked Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, to report within 15 days on options for boosting the UN presence in Burundi amid growing concern that the violence could spiral into an ethnic conflict. There have been warnings of an impending genocide.
A Burundian protester running through smoke during an anti-government demonstration in Bujumbura
At least 240 people have been killed in Burundi since protests against Mr Nkurunziza began in April  Photo: Dai Kurokawa/EPA
Others have discounted this idea and point out that the fuel to ignite an ethnic genocide is no longer in place. Let us all hope for the best and for a political resolution to the conflict.


The Israeli government has decided in its great wisdom to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. This has made many right wingers happy but has also generated much criticism, both internal and abroad. The human rights organization Amnesty International said the decision to outlaw the Islamic Movement raises concerns over freedom of speech and association in Israel, noting in particular the raids, preventive arrests and property confiscations as causes for concern.

 "Especially worrying is the fact the decision was made by the Israeli cabinet, without a fair process which gives the movement the chance to defend itself in legal proceedings," said a statement released by Amnesty. Tamar Zandberg MK of the Meretz party posted an excellent critique of the decision in Facebook (Hebrew).

Titan and Pollyanna regard the outlawing of the Islamic organization as the sort of gesture that governments do when they really have no idea how to cope with a given situation, but wish to create the delusion that they are doing something of substance,  Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund provides a good description of the response of the Israeli government:

"And from too many in positions of leadership and power, there is evasion, incitement, and distraction. Instead of an attempt to address the roots of the current violence, we hear cynical claims that almost fifty years of occupation and settlement enterprise are irrelevant to the current nightmare, that the Palestinians hate us and have always hated us, that they were responsible for the Holocaust, that there’s no difference between Palestinian activists and ISIS murderers.... And instead of looking for a way out of the terrible, seemingly endless conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, high ranking ministers have introduced new anti-democratic bills that would hamstring human rights organizations and ban entry to Israel of people who believe that supporting the settlement enterprise is bad for Israel and Zionism."

Nonetheless, we stand with the thousands of Israeli Jews and Arabs who refuse to be enemies.

Image result for refuse to be enemies



The EU has issued guidelines for the labeling of products made in West Bank or Golan settlements. The Israeli government is screaming foul, but Titan and Pollyanna think that the consumer in Europe is entitled to know what s/he is buying and if s/he disapproves of the patently illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories then certainly the right to boycott exists. We who live here in Israel make every effort to avoid buying such products and regard the EU action as overdue.



Judy (newly minted Ph.D. in Physics) informs us that quantum entanglement, although it may seem spooky, has been verified experimentally. Thank you Judy, this is exciting, at least to some of us. As described in a paper posted online and submitted to Physical Review Letters (PRL),* researchers from the US National Institute of Standards (NIST) in Boulder, CO and several other institutions created pairs of identical light particles, or photons, and sent them to two different locations to be measured. Researchers showed the measured results not only were correlated, but also—by eliminating all other known options—that these correlations cannot be caused by the locally controlled, “realistic” universe Einstein thought we lived in. This implies a different explanation such as entanglement. Titan and Pollyanna say cheers!
How NIST Detected Spooky Actions at a Distance Infographic


Millions are addicted to video games and the question of how they affect people and their lives is the subject of two recent books. One is:
 Gamelife A Memoir by Michael W. Clune, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
and the other
God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit (Acculturated) Paperback – May 26, 2015 by Liel Leibovitz.
A screenshot from Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World (1988), one of the computer games Michael Clune writes about in Gamelife: A Memoir

They are reviewed in depth by Gabriel Winslow-Yost in the New York Review of Books and there is much food for thought. The Clune book is also reviewed in the NYTimes, which might be more accessible. Many of us  tend to dismiss video games as trivial, but in fact, they are becoming a defining medium of our times. We spend more time and money on video games than on books, television, or film, and any serious thinker of our age should be concerned with these games, what they are saying about us, and what we are learning from them. We might wonder what negative effects this addiction might have. Adam Lanza the Newtown killer, was totally hung up on games, especially a game called Dance Dance Revolution.

teve McCurry/Magnum Photos A man playing a Dance Dance Revolution game, similar to the one Adam Lanza played, Tokyo, 2008

There is certainly no consensus in the scientific community about the psychological influence of gaming. In 2005, and again this August, the American Psychological Association declared that “violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players,” though not yet “to criminal violence or delinquency.” Some two hundred scientists and  professors signed an open letter objecting to the APA’s report as “misleading and alarmist” (Leibovitz, for his part, calls the connection between real and video game violence a “thoroughly refuted canard”). We wonder about this as we see our grandchildren playing incessantly, but are certainly not qualified to judge. We often are uncomfortable when confronted with the back of a hand held device instead of the countenance of a person,


The National Institutes of Health is shuttering its chimpanzee research program after decades of experimentation and research that has put animal rights activists and scientists at odds. It is welcome news to all who care about animals.
chimpanzee at Chimp Haven
A chimpanzee explores the outdoors at the Louisiana haven. (Photo: HSUS/YouTube)


The Korean film The Tenor-Lirico Spinto ( directed by Kim Sang-man) is a 2014 biopic chronicling the life of world-famous South Korean tenor Bae Jae-chul who performed in numerous European operas, but lost his voice at the peak of his career due to thyroid cancer. The film is reviewed by William Schwartz.


What If? seems to have discontinued in mid-September, so we shall just call on Randall for a lesson in chemistry.

This is reminiscent of an oral literature exam of someone in our family:

SMBC has some news for young people dreaming of going to medical school:


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Titan is back for a visit

Just in case you forgot what Titan looks like


We wish all our Jewish readers a Shana Tova, a happy New Year. The Hebrew Calendar New Year falls on Monday Sept. 14 and Tuesday Sept. 15.

After a long respite, Titan has decided that the time has come to return to the ranting fields. Too much has gone on and Titan feels that you have been deprived of his wisdom and good judgement, coupled with his characteristic modesty, for far too long. Pollyanna is still busy controlling a golf ball in the gravity of an asteroid, but if things turn pink again, you might even hear from her.

The Charity Corner has found a home on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action site. Titan hopes that you will visit there, take the actions and make the donations.



Titan is very pleased that the Iran deal has succeeded in the US Senate and that the horrible alternative, a further expansion of war in the Middle East has been avoided. He holds, of course, no brief for Iran and its leaders, but has good reason to believe that the people of Iran have more burning issues than building a bomb to attack Israel or anyone for that matter. One feature of nuclear weapons is that they are essentially unusable against an adversary similarly equipped and with a viable second strike capability. Many Israelis, out of a combination of Islamophobic racism and typical stupidity have tried to claim that the government of Iran would cheerfully sacrifice millions of its citizens in order to destroy Israel, i.e. Muslims are not rational beings such as "us"-Titan leaves you the choice of who is irrational. There have been many reports in the world press about Israel's second strike capability and the Iranians are certainly not fools. What is clear is the the voice of reason has prevailed in the US. The ranting and raving of the likes of Natanyahu and some right wing rabbis have all been for naught. In fact, if Titan were inclined to Schadenfreude, which of course he is not, he might derive some pleasure at seeing some famous noses pushed into the dog excrement. Peter Beinart explains clearly how and why Obama defeated AIPAC. To a great extent, the loss of influence of AIPAC in liberal circles is the result of Netanyahu's love affair with the Republicans. Yossi Verter finds some Nixonian traits in Netanyahu's mode of functioning, but alas there is no Kissenger around to restore some degree of reason.


Europe is being swept with a wave of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.  It is estimated that since January 2015, 350,000 refugees have desperately packed onto overcrowded vessels to Italy after fleeing war-torn countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Now, migrants are increasingly using road and rail transport to access the EU. The deaths of 71 migrants who suffocated on board a lorry abandoned in Austria is one of the most recent examples of the horror that can come about.

How these migrants are to be distributed in some equitable way across Europe depends on which country you are thinking of. Germany, Austria and France are standing up to their responsibility while other countries such as Denmark and Poland want no part of the newcomers. It is clear that there can be no thought of sending them back to war-torn Syria and now the flow of refugees from Iraq is beginning to increase. The NYTimes reports on a plan  proposed by the president of the European Commission  to share the burden of resettling 160,000 people who are in Greece, Hungary and Italy, the three countries where the most migrants have arrived in Europe. The plan assigns each member state a number of people based on its economic strength, population, unemployment and the number of asylum applications it has approved over the last five years. Note the graphics in this article--11 countries have already exceeded their quotas, while 14 would have to step up their acceptance rate.  The EU has a population of close to 500 million. Accepting even as many as a million refugees would mean one newcomer per 500 citizens, which certainly cannot be considered a major burden. Titan thinks it disgraceful that countries such as Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland (might accept 2,000, big deal) are playing a racist card. Denmark has gone so far as to publish ads in newpapers in Lebanon saying "do not come to us". Nonetheless, the migrants are there and are trying to make their way across Denmark to Sweden which is much more welcoming. Titan is sure that the leaders of the EU will sort this out somehow. The Hungarian police show how they humiliate refugees by throwing out food bags and watching the people scramble for them.

The former US Ambassador to Hungary comments in the NYTimes about the xenophobic attitude of Hungary. Although Hungary was taken into the EU, its government has denounced liberal democracy as a failure and in fact the political scene there is fascist. The Chancellor of Austria has likened the actions of Hungary to the treatment of Jews in WWII.
A man runs with child in arms as he tries to board a bus provided by Hungarian authorities for migrants and refugees at Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Credit AP
In Israel Yitzhak Herzog, the head of the opposition, has proposed that Israel accept some Syrian refugees. The idea was rejected by most of the official leadership. Yair Lapid, a parliamentarian and the son of a Holocaust survivor, attacked it as a European problem that does not impact Israel. He referred to the Darfur refugees as "infiltrators" which is enough to get Titan's blood to boil. For Israel to accept a number commensurate with the European model would give us about 10,000 refugees, which we could certainly absorb. Whether they would want to come here is a different issue, but it is inhumane to refuse to accept people fleeing war and carnage. This cartoon by Signe Wilkinson puts it into perspective:


Over six weeks ago terrorists threw a fire bomb into the home of the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma near Nablus. An 18 month old baby, Ali, was burned to death at once, his father, Saad, died of his burns shortly later and now the mother Reham, has succumbed to her burns and been buried in the village.
The funeral of Reham Dawabsheh in Duma, September 7, 2015. Credit Alex Levac

The Hebrew words "vengeance" and "long live the Messiah" were spray painted on the torched home, and an empty house nearby was set ablaze as well. No one has yet been arrested for the crime although a few known radicals have been placed under administrative detention. It is a national disgrace especially if compared with the efficiency with which the security services solved the case of the three boys murdered by Hamas. We are even told by the Defense Minister that the identity of the perpetrators is known, but there will be no prosecution lest intelligence sources be compromised. Zahava Galon, the head of the Meretz party,  accused Ya'alon of "hiding behind security excuses" to hide the defense establishment's incompetence to deal with Jewish terrorism. She said he wouldn't have dared to act or speak like this "if the murder victims had been Jewish." One might indeed wonder if the government really wants to arrest and try these killers. They are Orthodox Jews and it would look bad to some people to see Jews prosecuted for killing Arabs. The visceral racism of a good part of our population, especially those who profess the Orthodox brand of faith, runs very deep. Yossi Sarid mentions this case in a long litany of why no decent person can continue to love our country. We continue to care and it hurts.


For well beyond living memory league football in Israel has been played on Saturday afternoons, whether the Orthodox like it or not. Suddenly a judge has ruledthat playing football on the Sabbath is a criminal offense unless a permit is granted. The minister who could grant the waiver is Der'i, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who would have a problem with the conflict between his personal beliefs and the wrath of the secular public. The issue has been resolved by a decision by the Attorney General that  that there is no reason to suddenly enforce a law banning soccer matches from taking place on Shabbat. Football will go on as usual. Of course, Iran, immigration, murder by terror, the economy all paled compared to the really important issue.



Pipes excavated in Shakespeare's garden have been analyzed in South Africa by sensitive gas chromatography mass spectrometry. and found to contain traces of cannabis, but not cocaine. Some evidence of smoking "weed" and "compounds strange" can be found in Sonnet 76:

Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O! know sweet love I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
   For as the sun is daily new and old,
   So is my love still telling what is told.

Our beloved little Cynthia finds evidence in Othello:


What If?  asks: If you did fall into Jupiter's atmosphere in a submarine, what would it actually look like? What would you see before you melted or burned up? —Ada Munroe.
Interesting answers. Our colleagues at Tel Aviv University, Noa Noy et al. looked into the question of why the Red Spot is red back in 1981 and blamed phosphine, with a particular color variation caused by scattering. These days people are thinking more in terms of dissociation of sulfur products.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Titan and Pollyanna mourn their beloved Claudia

Titan and Pollyanna are returning briefly from their retirement to mourn Claudia who left us this week so prematurely
Claudia Alexander



This week we lost a beloved friend and colleague, Claudia. We met her in the mid 1980's at JPL during the heady days of the Giotto spacecraft at Comet P/Halley. We even take a bit of credit for persuading her that her talents were being wasted in the job she then had at JPL and that she should go for a Ph.D., which she did at the University of Michigan under the supervision of Tamas Gombosi. Over the years we have watched her career soar to positions of great responsibility. The last was the task of Project Scientist for the Rosetta mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Google her name and you will find a raft of very personal obituaries from people whose lives she touched. Claudia worked hard, played hard and enjoyed many facets of life.
Image result for claudia alexander 

She stood out as an African American woman in a field dominated by white males. The Los Angeles Times talked to her about that position.

"I'm used to walking between two different cultures," she said. "For me, this is among the purposes of my life — to take us from states of ignorance to states of understanding with bold exploration that you can't do every day."
The Times also asked Alexander if she was a risk taker.

"I'm definitely not someone who enjoys physical risk. I don't want to leap out of an airplane. I don't want to go rock climbing, but I have taken on a lot of sociological risk in my life," she said. "I took on a career that nobody wanted me to do, not my family, not my friends. So I took a risk in not following the fold, let's put it that way."

Although she rose to a position of prominence, she never forgot her roots. She co-authored books on science for children, went to schools in depressed districts of Los Angeles to pitch science to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and taught an astronomy course at Santa Monica College that was swamped with students. She was active in the Windows to the Universe project as well.

In an effort to ensure Claudia will live on in her discoveries, family members have launched a memorial STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) scholarship fund and are raising money through the website Please go there and donate in her memory.

Claudia was many things to many people. To us she was first and foremost a dear friend. We miss her.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Titan marks the vernal equinox.
March equinox illustration
The Earth during the equinox. (Not to scale)
Titan, along with the rest of us,  has gone through an election campaign. For those of us on the left-progressive side of the political spectrum, the results are an unmitigated catastrophe. The reelection of Netanyahu means that the public has turned its back on both the prospects of peace and any hope of social reform. To say that we are devastated is to put it mildly, but as Stav Shafir tells us (Hebrew, Facebook) , now is the time to dig in our heels and struggle. Amos Oz told us clearly before the election what would  happen if there is no Palestinian state:  there will also be no Jewish state and eventually there will be an Arab state here. The breakdown of the results by towns tells us that the people who are the main victims of our "swinish capitalism" are its biggest supporters. They also support having a mini-war every few years as long as it is the neighbor's son who gets killed. Maybe the US and the EU will get their act together and start applying some pressure, such as through the UNSC. What is clear is that relations with the US or at least with this administration are damaged beyond repair. Gideon Levy thinks that the nation has gone mad--there is a statement attributed, dubiously, to  the Roman philosopher Cicero, that one should not blame bad leaders, but the people who chose them. The spurious claim that in reality Israel has shifted to the left is, in Titan's humble opinion, nonsense. The mainstream consensus in Israel is against peace, against the Arab minority and an acceptance of the premises of the settlers and the lunatic right. The fact that now Netanyahu is trying to retract his campaign promise of "no Palestinian state" is worse than ludicrous. He is certainly exulting in his triumph, but he should have anticipated that the attack on the Arab voters would would hit a raw nerve in the US, especially with Obama,  and the dove of peace will not be devoured easily.
Mike Luckovich Cartoon for Mar/19/2015

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over two years have gone by without Miriam and we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.


This week Titan calls upon you to lend a hand to the people of the archipelago country of Vanuatu in the Pacific that was struck  badly by tropical cyclone  storm Pam.  There are many dead and the infrastructure of the islands has been hit very heavily.
A local resident kneels near debris on a street near damaged homes in Port Vila.
A local resident kneels near debris on a street near damaged homes in Port Vila. Photograph: Reuters

Titan recommends Mercy Corps as the most effective way of getting help to the victims of the disaster. He has sent in his donation by interplanetary courier and expects you Earthlings to step up to help.



The first rant is about the dire situation of human rights in Azerbaijan. Titan calls for all to take action here. President Ilham Aliyev claims that “all the fundamental freedoms are provided” in his country. In reality, scores of people who dared to criticize the government are in prison. Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov (human rights defenders), Khadija Ismayilova (journalist), Intigam Aliyev (lawyer) and Ilgar Mammadov (political opponent) are behind bars, only for lawfully exercising their freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly. They are jailed on trumped-up and politically motivated charges. New restrictive laws are used to make this easy.
This summer Azerbaijan is host to the first European Games. The country will be in the spotlight, and the government is keen on making a good impression. To silence critics, repression is only increasing. That is why you need to stand up now.

Call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan!
Amnesty International has published a detailed document on the persecution of dissidents in that country  that is worthy of your perusal.


 Hanna Barczyk for NPR
It is shocking that a large fraction of women in countries around the world think that in some circumstances spousal abuse is legitimate. In 29 countries around the world, one-third or more of men say it can be acceptable for a husband to "beat his wife." Perhaps more surprising: In 19 countries, one-third or more of women agree that a husband who beats his wife may be within his rights, at least some of the time.
The data come from polling performed from 2010 through 2014 for the World Values Survey — an extensive study of attitudes in almost 100 countries, conducted on an ongoing basis since 1981. The study is led by an international network of researchers based in Stockholm.

Blaming the victim is terrible, self-blaming by the victim is worse. Titan says that more effort has to be expended on consciousness raising, not only in the Third World, but in developed nations as well.


We had always regarded Tunisia as a bright light in the darkness of the Arab world. This week we had a rude awakening with the attack on the tourists at the museum in Tunis. Indeed,  the government has acted quickly and suspects have been detained, but the fact that so many young Tunisians are choosing  radical Islam and are going off to fight for the ISIS is depressing. ISIS has taken responsibility for the attacks which were aimed at foreigners from "Crusader countries" who are turning Tunisia into a "hotbed of debauchery."


It appears that religious intolerance and fanaticism are not confined to the Muslim world. Amnesty International decries a jail sentence against the owner and managers of a bar who posted an image of Buddha wearing headphones as a promotion for the bar. Tun Thurein and Htut Ko KoLwin from Myanmar and Philip Blackwood from New Zealand were today imprisoned for “insulting religion”. The charges stem back to December 2014 when the Buddha image was used to promote their Yangon bar online. Amnesty described the court action as "ludicrous" and called for their immediate release. In Myanmar, religious intolerance is aimed at non-Buddhists and Muslims in particular, which is in some sense ironic.


Titan congratulates the winners of the Intel  Science Talent Search. Over $1 million have been awarded by the Intel Corporation in the most prestigious pre-college competition carried out in the USA by the Society for Science and the Public.
Titan salutes all the winners and in particular the top three who won  awards of $150,000 each in the categories of Basic Research, Innovation, and Global Good.
Intel Science Talent Search winners
Noah Golowich, Michael Hofman Winer and Andrew Jin have earned the distinction of being top winners at the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search, besting over 1,800 other geniuses from high schools around the United States.
(Photo : Chris Ayers/Intel)


We have not checked in on Gene the writer for a while, so let us look at  his take on the Nature vs. Nurture debate. He presents a dear friend of his who is a unique type of urban planner. Titan himself just whips around Saturn and is pleased that his pal Cassini shows up on time, as scheduled. Of course, Cassini really comes around for an orbit shift, but Titan likes him anyhow.


The main rant about Israel is given above, but there are other things to note, not necessarily negative.


We call your attention to a Webinar conducted jointly by Combatants for Peace and the Formaast Theater of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. It will take place on Sunday March 29 and will be livestreamed. Titan recommends watching it.


 Ruth Schuster writing in Haaretz reports on analysis of stone tools carried out by Prof. Ran  Barkai of Tel Aviv University. The tools were found at Revadim, a site in Southern Israel and are the oldest tools showing residue of animal fat. They date from about half a million years ago. It is also reported that elephants were part of the menu for homo erectus in the Negev. Titan is impressed.
Biface hand-axe found at Revadim showing signs of use - and residue of animal fat.
The biface (hand-axe) bearing signs of usage (small red dots) and residue of animal fat (blue dots). Photo by Ran Barkai


What If?  asks:So, you're falling from a height above the tallest building in your town, and you don't have a parachute. But wait! Partway down the side of that skyscraper there's a flagpole sticking out, sans flag! You angle your descent and grab the pole just long enough to swing around so that when you let go you're now heading back up toward the sky. As gravity slows you and brings you to a halt, you reach the top of the skyscraper, where you reach out and pull yourself to safety. What's the likelihood this could happen?

Rex Ungericht

The answer is no way, but the calculations are interesting.


Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/15/2015


Dilbert Cartoon for Mar/17/2015
Dilbert Cartoon for Mar/18/2015
Dilbert Cartoon for Mar/19/2015 
Dilbert Cartoon for Mar/20/2015