Friday, April 4, 2014

Titan is back with the usual rants
The Dust and Ion Tails of Comet Hale-Bopp
Credit & Copyright: John Gleason (Celestial Images)

Titan is back and would like to start with a piece of astronomical beauty, Comet Hale-Bopp. You might recall that in 1997 a group of crazies committed suicide in order to get on board the alien spacecraft accompanying this comet.  In 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp's intrinsic brightness exceeded any comet since 1811. Since it peaked on the other side of the Earth's orbit, however, the comet appeared only brighter than any comet in two decades. Visible above are the two tails shed by Comet Hale-Bopp. The blue ion tail is composed of ionized gas molecules, of which carbon monoxide particularly glows blue when reacquiring electrons. This tail is created by the particles from the fast solar wind interacting with gas from the comet's head. The blue ion tail points directly away from the Sun. The light colored dust tail is created by bits of grit that have come off the comet's nucleus and are being pushed away by the pressure of light from the Sun. This tail points nearly away from the Sun. The above photograph was taken in March 1997.

Titan has much more to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. We start with the news that the World Court has ordered Japan to stop killing whales for "research purposes." Judges at the highest U.N. court ordered Japan on Monday to halt whaling in the Antarctic, rejecting its long-held argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not primarily for human consumption. Iceland and Norway continue commercial whaling without even the pretense of science. They simply did not join the world moratorium on whale hunting. It would be nice if someone could persuade them that this is wrong.

Also in the good news column Titan welcomes the release of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Rev. Praveen Mahesan and thanks the people, institutions, and organizations that helped. On the other hand,there still is a prisoner of conscience in detention in Sri Lanka. For details go to the Miriam Shlesinger blog linked below.

As usual, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has 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.

The charity for this week will be A School Library for Girls in Northern Afghanistan.

The donation is via GlobalGiving. The fundraising for this project seems to be struggling so Titan is pitching in and asks you to do the same with whatever amount you can spare. The project summary reads as follows: This microproject will equip a library room or area at an Ayni-supported school in Northern Afghanistan. The $2,500 goal will allow us to equip a school library with shelves, tables, and as many as 250 books. The math, science and reading books we provide are treasured by the schools, as is the place to store and use them. Our schools serve children of all ages, and the need for books and places to keep them is almost unlimited. 

In his last blog Titan pointed you at the issue of building water catchment basins in Burkina Faso. We have just received some feedback from the project helper on the ground and are delighted to share it with you. If helping to build a catchment basin can send 700 kids to school in the village of Sisene and relieve girls of hauling water so that they can get an education, then it is cheap at any price.
Four School Children
“We Are In School Now!” -  VILLAGE OF SISENE.

After construction of the rainwater catchment in Sisene, gardening began being practiced on a large scale and has become permanent. Animal husbandry, fishing, development of small businesses, markets three times each week are now standard. Cheers says Titan and even forgets that he is supposed to be grumpy.

OK That is the good news.

Titan would like to discuss two countries this week. They have little in common except that each in its own way is going to hell. They are China and Turkey. China as it continues to dominate the manufacturing economy of the world is still struggling to come to terms with the underpinning of lies on which its entire social and political system is based. Titan points you at a blog posting in the New York Review of Books by Peter Link. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is clear that the ghost of the event is still haunting China, both leadership and masses. The Chinese government’s use of lethal force against protesters in Tiananmen Square was a choice, and from the regime’s point of view the correct choice. But the massacre, as if having a will of its own, seems to come back to undermine whatever the regime claims as its legitimacy. We lack the space here to go into much detail, but we strongly recommend the blog to you. We hope you have no difficulty opening it. The NYRB likes people to pay for what it provides, for which they can hardly be blamed. If the given link does not open, try this one and click on file/download as to choose the format in which you wish to read the post.

We have been watching the recent events in Turkey. The New York Review of Books presents reviews of some new books on Turkish politics and it is a good idea to take a look at what is going on there. It can have an effect far beyond the boundaries of Turkey or of the Mideast. The following quote describes it well:
Christopher de Bellaigue writes:
    Two pilots who are flying an airplane together start punching each other in the cockpit. One ejects those members of the crew whom he believes to be close to his rival; the other screams that his copilot isn’t a pilot at all, but a thief. At that moment, the plane spins out of control and swiftly loses height, while the passengers look on in panic.

"These are lines from a recent newspaper column by Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, and I can think of no clearer aid to understanding the perverse, avoidable, almost cartoonish confrontation that has engulfed Turkey since last December, and that threatens to undo the political and economic gains of the past decade."

The books are:

The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power
by Soner Cagaptay Potomac, 168 pp., $25.95

Gülen: The Ambiguous
Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World by Joshua D.
Hendrick New York University Press, 276 pp., $49.00

Imamin Ordusu
[The Imam’s Army] by Ahmet Şık 298 pp., available at

In the review de Bellaigue gives a succint summary of the forces operating in Turkish politics and profiles the PM Erdogan and his adversary Fethullah Gülen. These two former allies are now struggling for control of modern Turkey. Back in 2006, Fethullah Gülen was acquitted of trying to take over the Turkish state, but Erdoğan has revived the idea. Having been a supporter of the Ergenekon (a mythical terrorist organization cooked up to put down the secular military) investigation, Erdoğan is now keen for the files to be reopened, no doubt with a view to expose judicial abuses by the Gülenists. Last month Erdoğan responded with an abuse of his own, steering legislation through parliament that gives the government increased control over judges and prosecutors. The two men’s dispute marks the end of a partnership that brought Islamism to power in Turkey, and it challenges the belief, once entertained even by some liberals, that if Turkey were to become  more responsive to its pious majority it would also be more just.

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Part 2 of its Assessment Report.
Earth on fire
Fire photo bypeasap; Earth photo by NASA; composite by Phil Plait.
 It is dire and much more than ranting is need to try to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Phil Plait, as usual, gives an excellent summary of the conclusions with a good slap at the spinning deniers. You can also find a good summary in the Guardian. The report plainly states the world is warming, the climate is changing, and we already see the impacts today. Climate change is happening now.  The document also goes into detail on projections for the future, and the great majority of them are grim. It is also clear that the changes are the result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution despite what the Koch brothers would like to tell you. There are means of mitigation, but that would require a political will that seems to be absent in the countries such as the US, China, India and Russia that are the greatest polluters. The bottom line is that the rich pollute, but the poor in the Third World will bear the brunt.
Titan would like to call your attention to a blog posting dealing with the addiction of the world to fossil fuels. It is most illuminating and also depressing.

The High Court of India has reversed a ruling of a lower court and has again criminalized homosexuality. By doing so India has reverted to being one of the backward nations of the planet along with Uganda, parts of the Arab world and various benighted dictatorships in the Third World along with a former member of the G8 which was just booted out. Titan appends a brief outcry from an Indian former judge. We note that Scott got it right in Dilbert, in a  strip was censored by ArcaMax.
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

A few weeks ago Titan told you the sad story of Mohammed Ali and Zakia who are in love but were prevented from marrying because of ethnic mismatching between them. Zakia is a member of the Tajik ethnic group, and Mohammad Ali is a Hazara. There are new developments. Zakia managed to escape from the women's shelter where she was being held to keep her family from killing her and the two have eloped. The happily ever after part is still well over the horizon. The police are looking for them and the people who helped them are being punished. The police have already arrested two women for helping Zakia escape. On top of that, the head of the Bamian Women’s Ministry, Fatima Kazimi, fled on Saturday, saying she was worried about retaliation against her and her family for helping the young woman evade her father’s wrath in the first place. She has lost her position and probably is now unemployable anywhere in Afghanistan.

Fatima Kazimi, head of the Bamian Women’s Ministry, helped protect Zakia. On Saturday, Ms. Kazimi fled, too, in fear of reprisal. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
The young couple cannot leave the country because they cannot obtain passports and they probably have run out of money in their hiding place. It is a tragedy all around and we can only hope that somehow matters will be sorted out. In view of what we know of Afghanistan, their only hope is to leave somehow and start a new life in a different and more liberal place.

A search and rescue worker looks for survivors in the aftermath of the mudslide in Oso, Wash. Credit David Ryder/Getty Images
As the people of Oso, Washington State, USA try to go on after experiencing a mudslide that buried parts of their town and as of this writing took a toll of 28 dead with 20 more still missing, perhaps we should think of human actions that cause such disasters. It is mainly associated with logging. If the trees on a mountainside are removed, there is nothing left to retain the soil and it can wash away in heavy rain. The mudslide took place in what was once a forest, but after it was excessively logged, with a large fraction of the trees removed, there was nothing to hold the land in place during heavy rains. A federal survey determined that nearly 50 percent of the entire basin above Deer Creek had been logged over a 30-year period. It does not  take a degree in forestry to see how one event led to the other. Timothy Egan, writing in the New York Times, tells the sad tale of a mudslide that could have been prevented and certainly was predictable. Hurricane Mitch passed over Honduras in 1998 and left huge mudslides in its wake, also caused by overlogging on mountainsides. When will we people ever learn?

The census has begun despite claims by minority groups that they were not consulted The census has been has been widely criticized for stoking religious and ethnic tensions because the government has denied members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority the  right to identify themselves as Rohingya.

In addition, administrators in some parts of the country —including rebel-controlled areas in the states of Kachin and Wa —said they were barring census takers because they were worried that the census would be used for political purposes. The population will be asked to define themselves as members of one of 135 ethnic groups, but Rohingya would not be allowed to identify themselves as such on the ballot. The government defines them as Bengali and although they have been in the country for many generations, they are denied citizenship by national law. Titan hopes that the census will pass somehow without bloodshed.

People with abnormally high cholesterol levels are prescribed drugs known as statins. It has now come to light that for men statins also help out with erectile function. Ill blows the wind that profits nobody. [1591 Shakespeare, Henry VI, Pt. 3 ii. v. 55]

During the Purim festival it is customary to dress up and often the costumes push the limits of the envelope. A group of students in the town of Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem pushed it a bit harder than usual this year. They dressed up as KKK men and a few of their classmates dressed up as African-Americans being abused by them.
Israeli high school students dressing up as KKK members for Purim 2014.
A Facebook photo of Israeli students dressing up as either KKK members or the black men they appear to be threatening. Photo by Mizbala
Some saw it as an innocent prank, something that kids do, others as social protest against the treatment of refugees from Africa by the government and others saw it as a monstrous display of insensitivity especially in a town with an absorption center full of Ethiopian immigrants. Others commented on the insensitive reaction of the town authorities. Titan thinks that it was indeed stupid and insensitive, but in a democracy stupidity and insensitivity are protected free speech, whatever we may think of the education that these kids received or did not receive from their parents and educators.

The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday morning convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert, along with nine other former senior officials and businessmen, of taking and giving bribes in the development of a massive Jerusalem construction project promoted while Olmert was mayor of the city over a decade ago. To many of us, including Titan, the corruption was no surprise, but the conviction was to some extent. In 2012, Olmert was acquitted of major charges in separate cases involving his links to a U.S. businessman while he was Jerusalem mayor and an Israeli cabinet minister.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Decision time has come in the corruption case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Photo by Amit Shabi

The story goes on since his former bureau chief Shula Zaken, who was also convicted, is trading for a light sentence in return for testimony against Olmert in an obstruction of justice case that has not yet gone to trial. Three of the accused were acquitted. Titan quotes Irma La Douce-"Don't get caught 'cause that's a crime." People who are really arrogant are sure that they will never be caught and convicted. We have a gripe against Olmert for the two miserable wars he generated as PM and the unnecessary and profitless loss of life entailed.

Rabbi Avraham Yosef, the rabbi of the town of Holon,near Tel Aviv, the son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was asked by a university student in an online forum whether Jewish law permits submitting someone else's paper as your own. His answer was yes, which is shocking. One of our religious colleagues who thinks that Haaretz is very quick to jump on the Orthodox community looked up the original exchange which we shall append. He thinks the English translation of the what the Rabbi wrote gives an erroneous interpretation, i.e. what is the antecedent of the pronoun "she." Nonetheless he condemned the Rabbi as do many other religious people, so let us not jump to the conclusion that Jewish law is lenient on plagiarism. It definitely is not and forbids it categorically. Here is the original exchange and the Hebrew-challenged will forgive us.
 ”חברה שלי צריכה להגיש עבודה באוניברסיטה. היא לקחה עבודה מוכנה של מישהי אחרת וביקשה ממני לשנות את הניסוח כדי שהעבודה לא תיראה אותו הדבר (העבודה מוגשת לאותו מרצה). אני חושבת שמרצה מודע לתעשיית מיחזור העבודות שנעשית בקורס שלו (עובדה שכל שנה הוא נותן בדיוק את אותה המשימה) אבל אני לא בטוחה. האם מותר לי לעזור לחברה שלי לנסח מחדש את העבודה?"
הרב, בנו של הרב עובדיה יוסף ז"ל, כתב בתשובה: "מותר. וזו מצות גמילות חסד, בפרט כאשר היא שולטת היטב בחומר".
The message read: "My friend needs to submit a paper in one of her university classes. She took someone else's paper from a previous year and asked me to change the wording so the paper won't look the same (the paper will be handed in to the same lecturer). I believe that the lecturer is aware that many students recycle papers in his course since every year he gives the exact same assignment – but I'm not sure. Am I allowed to help my friend reword the paper?"
Rabbi Yosef answered that she is, in fact, allowed to do so, and even said that she would be doing "the mitzvah of charity" – especially if she is well acquainted with the material.

What the rabbi fails to understand is that a university term paper especially in the humanities or social sciences is designed to show more than just knowing the material. We want to see the research and writing skills and the ability to integrate material and formulate a coherent and substantive set of ideas, to say nothing of originality of thinking. It may be that this differs from the yeshiva learning that the rabbi knows which involves much learning by rote.

Dozens of doctors have received fictitious promotions and the title of managers at three state-owned hospitals in Israel: Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin. The titles include deputy department head, unit head, clinic head and service manager. This does not involve extra work or extra salary, just prestige and a bit of money on the side. If a patient wants a second opinion, the HMO or the supplementary insurance will cover it only if the doctor involved has a position of authority such as Head or Deputy Head of a department or some other administrative post. What is done is that fictitious departments are created with no staff, no budget and no patients,but the title enables the doctor to get these consultations. The director-general of the Ministry of Health is about to lower the boom on this example of Israbluff. The Civil Service Commission sent a letter to the hospitals and demanded the  cancellation of the bogus appointments, calling them “deceiving the public.”

Richard Silverstein in Tikkun Olam tells us that the police in Israel are about to use the techniques of spy agencies against its own citizens. The national police have decided that they need a domestic version of America’s NSA. They desire the capability to use the same tools developed by Unit 8200 (the IDF’s SIGINT group) on Israeli citizens. Of course, they claim they’re using these tools against organized crime gangs inside Israel. But really, who believes they won’t be used against any citizen the police believe are enemies or threats to the state? Why not use them to bug the phones of Israeli activists? Track their activity on the internet? See who they collaborate with both inside and outside Israel? Richard reports on what Doron Ofek wrote and it makes good reading. The name and picture of the new spymaster who left unit 8200 to take the job has gone on and off the Facebook status of the Ministry involved. Here it is and if Titan goes to jail you are invited to bring him chicken soup with a hacksaw blade.
yoav hassan
Newly appointed Israeli police SIGINT chief, Yoav Hassan with police chief, Yochanan Danino
 In the US they have a Fourth Amendment to violate, here in Israel we have no defense from the caprices of any government agency.

Lest you get the idea that boorish behavior is a monopoly of teenage high school kids, we call your attention to young but still much older idiots. Backpacking in Latin America or in India is more or less a rite of passage for young people after getting out of the army and before going on to real life. In India and Goa they usually just get stoned to the high heavens and sadly a few have died of overdoses of drugs. In Latin America, besides the drugs,  they get their kicks from vandalism and thuggish behavior at sites either of historical value or sacred to the native peoples. We have lovely reports such as the following from Haaretz: "Some 60 young, mainly Israeli, travelers have been arrested at a Peruvian archaeological site for what local media are describing as a late-night drunken, drug-addled sex orgy, Channel 2's Mako website reported Tuesday."
Fire at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
Fire at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, Dec. 30, 2011. An Israeli tourist was suspected of causing the disaster. Photo by AP
A Peruvian TV station billed the event as "a night of Israeli debauchery." Stolen Inca artifacts, as well as marijuana and components for making cocaine, were confiscated from four makeshift huts where the travelers were living, in the Saksaywaman archaeological site outside the city of Cusco. The travelers left behind drug paraphernalia, spray paint cans and other garbage. The huts, found to have been built illegally, were destroyed. Michelle Hites of the Chilean Jewish community complains strongly about the damage to the local Jews and to the image of Israel caused by the loutish behavior of young Israelis.

In 1970 Mordechai Spiegler scored a goal for Israel in a World Cup match and forced a 1-1 tie with Sweden. That remains Israel's sole World Cup achievement. With eight million residents, Israel is larger than Croatia, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Bosnia — which all qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Highly-rated Israeli players such as Ronny Rosenthal (Liverpool, Tottenham), Eyal Berkovic (West Ham, Manchester City), Haim Revivo (Celta Vigo, Fenerbahce) and Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool, Chelsea) enjoyed success in Europe, but their individual achievements did not lead to national progress. An AP article in Haaretz addresses the issue.
Some blame it on the military service requirement and on the stresses on national priorities dictated by MidEast politics.  Shlomi Barzel, head of communications for the Israel Football Association, refuses to use that as an excuse. "The bottom line is that we are not good enough," he said. "The conditions were good enough to succeed and we didn't take advantage of them. The talent was there but we didn't build for the long run."

As sports fans say, there is always next year.


What If?

Great Tree, Great Axe

If all the seas were one sea,
What a great sea that would be!
If all the trees were one tree,
What a great tree that would be!
If all the men were one man,
What a great man that would be!
If all the axes were one axe,
What a great axe that would be!
And if the great man took the great axe,
And cut down the great tree,
And let if fall into the great sea,
What a great splish-splash that would be!
... How great would all of these things be?
—John Eifert (quoting a Mother Goose rhyme)

Once upon a time people used to think for themselves, with the exception of Sir Joseph Porter, whose lack of thinking got him the job of Ruler of the Queen's Navy...


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Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/31/2014

Wizard of Id Cartoon for Mar/30/2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Titan has recovered from his Purim hangover to a world with gravitational waves...

Titan is back with you again and has much to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. We start with something tremendous, the possible identification of gravitational waves and the evidence to support inflation theory. Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced this week. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. What’s more, the signal is coming through much more strongly than expected, ruling out a large class of inflation models and potentially pointing the way toward new theories of physics, experts say.
BICEP2 measurement of gravitational waves via CMB B-mode polarization
Proof of gravitational waves created by cosmic inflation is shown here in this image of the cosmic microwave background radiation collected by the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole. The proof comes in the form of a signature called B-mode polarization, a curling of the orientation, or polarization, of the light, denoted by the black lines on the image. The color indicates small temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background that correspond to density fluctuations in the early universe.
BICEP2 Collaboration   
The observation was done by a telescope named BICEP2 located at the South Pole, a high and dry place well suited for observing the cosmos.
Bicep2 telescope
Bicep2 is a telescope whose name is short for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation. Photograph: Steffen Richter/AP

 We will try to explain this in more detail by means of this video.


The waves were predicted long ago by Prof. Andrei Linde. Here is how a young colleague told him about the discovery.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has 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.

The charity for this week will be Rainwater Catchments: A Solution to Water Scarcity. GlobalGiving offers an opportunity to help subsistence farmers in Burkina Faso manage their often unreliable water supply. Small rainwater catchment basins provide an innovative solution to water scarcity in rural Burkina Faso. Properly constructed, catchment basins assure that water is available throughout the year, providing opportunities to increase agricultural production, improve villagers' health, and create local employment. The project Give Water Give Life (GWGL) can make a life or death difference to this population. Pitch in please.
Water is truly the most essential thing                         


She was a Chinese human rights activist for whom we have called for help in the Miriam blog many times. Repeated requests by Cao’s family for her to receive medical treatment for serious health problems were denied. Cao Shunli was a prisoner of conscience, who had been detained for  solely as a result of her peaceful activism.She died from organ failure at the 309 Hospital in Beijing on 14 March after five months in detention. . She was transferred there from Chaoyang District Detention Centre on 16 February, where she had been prevented from receiving the medical treatment she needed for a number of serious health problems, including tuberculosis in both her lungs, uterine fibroids and cirrhosis of the liver. The authorities also denied her family’s repeated appeals for her to be released on medical parole, and this was only offered once her condition had become critical.

Cao Shunli was one of the key advocates for enabling civil society to participate in the drafting of China’s National Human Rights Action Plan and reports for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). She was detained in September 2013 at Beijing airport as she was on her way to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend a training programme on UN human rights’ mechanisms. Her detention was believed to be as a result of her role in organizing a sit-in protest along with other activists in front of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October, she was formally arrested for "picking quarrels and making trouble", a charge often used to supress human rights defenders and critics of the government.

She had previously been sent to Re-education Through Labor for one year in April 2010, and for one year and three months in April 2011 because of her peaceful activism and human rights work.

We thank all who took action on her behalf. Titan, Pollyanna and YandA call upon all our readers to think of Cao Shunli and the many victims of the cruelty of the Chinese regime as we perforce buy goods made in China. "Cao Shunli's death exposes just how callous and calculating the Chinese authorities are prepared to be to silence critics. The authorities today have blood on their hands." said Anu Kultalahti, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

"Cao Shunli was a courageous woman who paid the ultimate price for the fight for human rights in China. She should have never been detained in the first place; but to then deny her the medical treatment she desperately needed is a most barbaric act.”

She had led attempts to allow activists to contribute to China’s national human rights report, ahead of a review at the UN Human Rights Council. More details are given in the Guardian. The US State Department has issued a statement of concern.

Rest in Peace Cao Shunli and let us all take inspiration from your example of defense of human rights. A blog post in her memory is available on the Amnesty Live Wire site.

In recent months, other high profile activists, including Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, have been denied medical treatment.  Liu Xia, who is under illegal house arrest, was denied treatment for a serious heart condition. She was finally allowed to receive hospital treatment in late February.

“The denial of medical treatment for activists in detention is common in order to weaken or punish them. The Chinese authorities must immediately end this unlawful and inhumane practice,” said Kultalahti.

This week the rants focus on the environment. Titan is outraged that BP, the company that was responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters in history, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is being allowed, after four years of exclusion, to return to the Gulf. They are making every effort to avoid full accountability. The April 2010 oil spill  was so bad that the company primarily responsible, BP, has tried to limit its liability in court by pinning some of the blame on other corporations. Their lawyers also tried to convince Judge Carl Barbier that if the company is to be found guilty, it should amount to only “negligence” and not “gross negligence.” Under the Clean Water Act, a “negligence” verdict would translate into fines of $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. But a “gross negligence” finding would result in a fine of $4,300 per barrel. If we bear in mind that the size of the spill is estimated at 4.9 million barrels, we note that this is a difference of $15.7 billion.

Experts who observed the recently concluded trial in New Orleans, which pitted BP against plaintiffs that included small businessowners and the federal government, said the oil giant may have succeeded in shifting some of the blame onto Transocean Ltd., which owned the oil rig that exploded, and Halliburton, which performed cement work on the undersea well. If successful with this legal strategy, BP could reduce its share of the penalty for fouling large sections of the Gulf coast and polluting the ocean. A decision from Barbier could come as early as July.

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 people, injured 17, and leaked 210 million gallons of oil over the course of 87 days, making it the largest offshore oil spill and worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. BP has, to date, spent $42 billion on clean-up operations and fines.

Titan says yuck. Imagine what would have happened if the spill had been caused by terrorist activity. Similarly, the pollution of drinking water, that affected 300,000 people in West Virginia, earlier this year, by negligence of a corporation did not lead to the kind of outrage one would expect. Tom Tomorrow puts the question very well in this cartoon.
In Israel we see what corporate impunity can do to a delicate environmental system. The Dead Sea has been exploited brutally by Israel Chemicals who were granted total exemption from all environmental constraints by the Rabin government of the 1990's. Now we have sinkholes, pollution and general environmental catastrophe in the region. The fact that Israel Chemicals continues to make methyl bromide although it has been outlawed around the world tells you what we are dealing with. Apart from being a toxic chemical fumigant, methyl bromide contributes significantly to the destruction of earth’s stratospheric ozone layer, a protective shield that filters out harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The bromine contained in methyl bromide is fifty times more destructive to ozone than the chlorine found in Chlorofluorocarbons(CFCs).

Nothing talks louder than money.    

Darfur has slipped off the front pages in recent years, replaced by newer, more exciting causes célèbres. This doesn’t mean the situation has got any better. As fighting flares up yet again, it’s worth remembering what is going wrong – and how it is affecting not just Darfur, but the whole region.
With so many other crises popping up and the well known length of the public attention span, Darfur has dropped off the radar screen for many. To his credit, George Clooney is still ranting and rightly so. The United Nations’ peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters this week that approximately 100,000 people have fled their homes in the region in the last six weeks, as fighting between government forces and armed rebel groups intensifies. This is in addition to the two million people already been forced from their homes by the conflict (400,000 in 2013 alone). “Their arrival is having an overwhelming impact on the already limited water, food and health care available in the camps. The increase in displacement is a worrying trend at a time when civilians were being encouraged to return to their villages of origin,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, of the newly displaced. This catastrophe has been going on for 11 years and shows no signs of abating.


Titan is outraged at the actions of the government of Myanmar. They have thrown Doctors Without Borders out of the country because they treated Rohingya Muslim patients in Rakhine province. Rakhine is one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, and is home to 1 million Rohingya Muslims. Doctors Without Borders has been in Rakhine for nearly 20 years, providing maternal and child health services, and malaria and tuberculosis care for about 750,000 people, mostly Rohingya around Rakhine State.

Doctors Without Borders is the main provider of HIV drugs, supplying more than 30,000 patients with medication unavailable through the government. Rakhine now has no basic medical services. Titan wonders what happened to the voice of democracy known as Aung San Suu Kyi. She seems to have abandoned principles for political expediency.



This is a stinking scandal of corruption at the highest levels of the military establishment in Israel. Harpaz is a former Lt. Col. who in 2010 circulated a document besmirching the general whom the then Minister of Defense, Barak, was grooming to become Chief of Staff after Gabi Ashkenazi. At long last the police have gotten around to arresting two of the dramatis personae, Erez Wiener and Avi Benayahu, former brass hats, while Ashkenazi himself, who is pushing for a political career, is to be interrogated. You can read about the sordid mess in the link. Titan, in the recent past,  has compared Ashkenazi to Al Capone and Augusto Pinochet, arch murderers who were brought to justice on minor matters such as income tax. Ashkenazi's flunkies are being charged with  allegedly obstructing an investigation, destroying evidence, assisting in illegal surveillance of various officials and leaking highly classified documents as part of the Harpaz Affair.  Titan would like to see them all indicted and on trial at The Hague for their crimes against humanity.


Titan thinks that it is bad enough that we have Cabinet ministers who are racist, fascist and thirsting for a war. We also have people who satisfy these criteria and in addition are total idiots. One of them is the Minister of Defense,  Moshe Ya'alon, a former Chief of Staff, a job for which idiocy has never been a bar. He has just shot his mouth off in an anti-American tirade (for the second time in a few months) for which he found himself again forced to apologize. He claims that the US is broadcasting a message of weakness round the world. Presumably he expects the US and NATO to invade Crimea and maybe precipitate WW III. He claims, of course, that Israel invented everything in sight and that the US needs Israel--“They get quality intelligence and technology. We invented [the] Iron Dome [anti-rocket system]. The wings of the F-35 stealth fighter – we invented. We invented the Arrow [anti-ballistic missile system].” He forgot to mention that we killed the Dead Sea as well (see above). The response from the USA was withering: “We were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. “Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the defense minister disparages the US administration, and insults its most senior officials.” Of course, you can argue that nations get the governments that they want and deserve and in a democracy that is certainly true.


Just to end on positive note, we are told that a new archeological center is to be built in Israel and part of it will be open to the public. The building will store and showcase the nation's rich collection of some two million ancient artifacts, including the world's largest collection of Dead Sea Scrolls. Titan likes the idea.


What If? How much CO2 is contained in the world's stock of bottled
fizzy drinks? How much soda would be needed to bring atmospheric
CO2 back to preindustrial levels? Brandon Seah 

The answer is a monstrous burp...

Ancient Stars

Sirius is very bright indeed and practically in our back yard. Of course, there are closer stars, but they are dimmer. Here is a list of nearby stars if you are curious.

This must be fun:


Be careful what stories you tell children:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Titan salutes International Women's Day

Titan is back with you again and has much to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. Of course, if you are a galaxy whose business is making stars, the advent of a supermassive black hole is anything but a positive event.

DEAD GALAXY  The giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5044, seen in this composite image, is filled with cold gas, yet it is not making stars. New research suggests a black hole may be to blame. The galaxy is filled with threads of warm hydrogen gas (red) that snake through an atmosphere of hot gas (blue). Stars appear white. 

He will also discuss International Women's Day that fell on Saturday March 8.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has 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.

The charity for this week will be an international one based in the US. It is the Committee of Concerned Scientists or CCS. Their declared goal is to achieve

    Academic freedom for all scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars
    Freedom of exchange of scientific and other scholarly information, data and personnel
    Freedom of research, inquiry, publication and travel to and from scholarly and scientific meetings
    Freedom of association
    Freedom of emigration
    Recognition, implementation and preservation of human rights, individual and collective, without distinctions based on race, language, religion, sex or national origin
    Compliance by governments with provisions of international agreements they have signed pertaining to the human rights of scientists

As we see more and more regimes becoming repressive with respect to freedom of all kinds, it is important to support organizations such as CCS. Please open the site and pitch in with a donation for a worthy cause.

International Women's Day, March 8,
This event has been going on every year since 1911.   Each year the UN declares a Theme for  International Women's Day. For 2014 : INSPIRING CHANGE

Some groups select their own International Women's Day theme, specific to their local context. For example, the European Parliament's 2013 theme was "Women's response to the crisis" and their 2012 theme "Equal pay for work of equal value".

Women's equality has made positive gains but the world is still unequal. International Women's Day celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action.

In Israel, there is great inequality as described by Aliza Shinhar in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. We might note that every year the day falls near the festival of Purim in which we celebrate the saving of the Jewish people from genocide. The salvation was brought about through the courage and wisdom of a woman, Esther, who,according to the Purim story, became queen of Persia at a very critical moment in history. It is amusing that Prof. Shinhar refers to her as the virgin Esther when she won the crown by outperforming all her competitors in the royal bed. Details, details...
Part of a Scroll of Esther from Alsace
Part of a Scroll of Esther from Alsace Photo: REUTERS

There is a lot of pious talk about advancing women, but Titan thinks that it is mostly hypocrisy. Even if we leave the Third World and the Muslim countries aside, we still have a situation in Europe in which one third of the women in the EU countries have experienced some form of sexual violence and harassment during their lifetimes. In the US, the Republican party is conducting a war against women especially in the area of reproductive rights. If the present status of women is the result of 103 years of IWD, then the future looks bleak. Nonetheless, we who specialize in futile struggles will continue to rant about abuse of women

So let us raise a glass for International Women's Day and do our best to continue the struggle for equality and rights, for women's rights are indeed  human rights.

OK Titan, get off your soap box and go back to orbiting Saturn and giving Cassini the odd gravity boost.

If you thought that Titan was really going to get off his soap box and let you off with just  the women's day rant, then you really do not know this cantankerous piece of Solar System flotsam puffed up with a mythological name, a cushy orbit outside of the radiation belts of the magnetosphere of Saturn and a coterie of orbiting goddess groupies who gaze upon him in awe.

This week Titan would like to talk about the high incidence of evil acts around the world, what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. She was writing about the Eichmann trial and the evil of  the Nazis, but evil certainly did not vanish from the Earth with the fall of the Nazi regime. If we look around, we see it. Take  for example the action of the President of Uganda, Museveni who has just signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. This is a terrible law which criminalizes consensual sex between adults and can inflict up to life imprisonment.
Ugandan President Museveni (Above) has signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
Ugandan President Museveni (Above) has signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

 Helen Epstein writing in the New York Review of Books discusses the total ignoring of science in Uganda. As she writes: "Museveni’s considerations were clearly political. Now in his twenty-eighth year in office, his popular support is plummeting and conservative Christians are among his few remaining allies. His government is wracked with corruption and he himself has  recently been accused of stealing $5 million per month from the  national workers’ pension fund; his henchmen have harassed and  possibly murdered rival politicians; his troops are involved in  bloody conflicts in several neighboring countries, including South Sudan, which could explode into a regional conflict, and there is widespread discontent even within his own political party."

In  situations such as these, dictators look for something to distract the public. A tabloid newspaper, owned by his half-brother, published a gay hit list.

The Red Pepper, a tabloid in Uganda, has printed the names of 200 people it accuses of being homosexuals on its front page

Also in the NYRB, Edward Mendelson, writing about W.H. Auden, discusses the poet's position on the nature of evil. Long before  Arendt, he realized that evil was latent in all of us. He wrote:

More than ever
life-out-there is goodly, miraculous, loveable,
   but we shan’t, not since Stalin and Hitler,
trust ourselves ever again: we know that, subjectively,
   all is possible.

What is most relevant to us today is the capability of people who were themselves victimized to turn against others and abuse them. We know that the freed slaves who were taken to Africa from the US in 1820 to found Liberia enslaved the local people. Auden recognized that victims, no matter how guiltless in their own victimization, are tempted to become victimizers in turn. As he put it briskly in a song, “Many a sore bottom finds/A sorer one to kick.”

Today when we look at the rise of neo-Fascism in Europe and elsewhere and the spread of racism, we cannot but wonder that he may be right and that the idea that ordinary citizens and murderous dictators belong to different moral species is naive. We see horrible atrocities committed in the name of religion. Steve Weissman writing in Reader Supported News notes that even Pope Francis who is hailed as a liberal gives in at the end of the day to the right wing forces that he cannot control. Nowhere is this more obvious than in France where the right wing wave of French Spring which espouses antisemitism and xenophobia is prospering. The demonstrations include followers of the anti-Semitic comic Dieudonné doing his reverse Nazi salute, the quenelle, and full-fledged neo-Nazis yelling “Jews Out of France.” Catholic associations have played a leading role in calling the marches and rallies, and Church leaders such as the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon Philippe Barbarin have taken a prominent part.We cannot depend on the Pope or any religious leader to play a  significant humanistic role. Yes, the Pope has taken some positive stances, such as holding up the sainthood of Pius XII and cracking down on child abusing priests. Whether he can stand up to the Fascists is something that history will decide.

Soon a year will have passed since the collapse of a building in Bangladesh. The building housed garment factories producing for the biggest brands in the West. Over 1,100 people were killed in one of the worst industrial accidents in history. The companies involved agreed to set up a fund to compensate the victims and their families and to improve worker safety. Here is a partial list of companies that have not donated to the fund: 
Adler Modemrkte,Auchan, Ascena Retail, Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, Cato Fashions, Children's Place, Grabalok, Gueldenpfennig, Kids for Fashion, KiK, LPP, Manifattura Corona, Matalan, NKD, Premier Clothing, Primark, PWT, Walmart and Yes Zee.
Think twice before buying their products. Please open the link and join the campaign to force these companies to pay up. Put in your own details if the rubrics are filled.

The Sochi games are behind us. David Remnick writing in the New Yorker describes how Putin got the IOC to give Russia the 2014 Winter Games. We can only admire his lovely turn of phrase that the "IOC has a history of financial receptivity and political amoralism..." : Who could have put it better?

Carlo Stenger blogging in Haaretz, points out the three irredentist groups in Israel who cannot possibly coexist with respect for each others' values. They are the Haredim or ultra religious, who demonstrated last week in large numbers against induction into military service, the messianic nationalists who regard democracy as secondary to occupying the Greater Land of Israel and last, and indeed least, the liberal Zionists who confirm the need and justification for a Jewish state, but want it to be a liberal democracy. We are now reading Ari Shavit's book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Random House) and while we disagree with many of his positions, the gloomy picture he paints is hard to contradict. Noam Sheizaf gives it a tough, but fair review in +972.

Martin Luther King once defined militarism as one of the three factors that can destroy a society. The other two are racism and materialism. While Israel has plenty of the latter two, the worship of the army and the use of the education system to generate cannon fodder for the ambitions of the military class must certainly be the central evil here. Here is an official recruiting poster designed to attract women soldiers to be teachers.
"When I enter the classroom, I know that I am preparing the citizens of tomorrow for the next war."

It is frightening to think that young children are exposed to this pernicious brainwashing. Titan would like to strangle this young lady...

Israel has taken on a tough policy with respect to refugees from Africa. In that it is no different from Australia and many other countries. Israel has been "persuading" asylum seekers to leave and they are being sent to third countries. They are not being sent to Eritrea or Sudan because of danger to their lives there, but they can be sent to Uganda and Ethiopia. Efrat Lachter had a look at what awaits them in Ethiopia.
Mai-Aini refugee camp
A typically forlorn scene in the Mai-Aini refugee camp. Photo by Efrat Lachter

 One cannot but think of border police in Spain and Switzerland in the 1940's, but for analysis of that, see the Auden discussion above.


What If?
In terms of human-made objects, has Voyager 1 traveled the farthest distance? It's certainly the farthest from Earth we know about. But what about the edge of ultracentrifuges, or generator turbines that have been running for years, for example?-Matt Russell
The question is not so silly and the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/06/2014

The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more
Wizard of Id Cartoon for Mar/05/2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Titan greets his loyal readers, if there are any

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
Crossing Dingo Gap on Mars
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS; Digital processing: Damia Bouic
Explanation: An important threshold on Mars has now been crossed. Landing in mid-2012, the Curiosity rover is searching for clues of whether life could ever have existed on the red planet. Recent findings of Curiosity include evidence for an ancient (but now dried) freshwater lake, and the non-detection of the biomarker methane in the Martian atmosphere. To continue its investigation, the car-sized rover is on an expedition to roll up Mt. Sharp, the central peak of the large crater in which it landed. Life might have shown preference for water that once ran down the Martian mountain. Two weeks ago, to avoid more dangerous and rocky terrain, Curiosity was directed to roll across a one-meter high sand dune that blocked a useful entrance to Mt. Sharp. Just after the short trip over Dingo Gap was successful, the robotic rover took the above image showing the now-traversed sand mound covered with its wheel tracks.
Titan is back with you again and has much to share with you, most of it rants, but also some positive things. Here are some wheel tracks left on a Mars sand dune by the Curiosity rover. A previous rover, Spirit, was rated for 90 days and worked for over 2200. It ran into a sand dune and failed to extricate itself, so now it is stuck. Randall thinks this is rover abuse:

 For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has 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 it is Titan's turn to promote a charity. His choice is Nitzan, The Israeli Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities which treats children, youth and adults suffering from learning, adaptive and functional disabilities. The aim of Nitzan is to provide special education services for the learning-disabled, with the goal of enabling their integration into mainstream education and helping them develop the skills necessary to become contributing members of society.

One of Nitzan's greatest achievements is the change in perspective it has brought about in Israeli society toward people with learning disabilities. For many years' individuals with learning disabilities suffered both socially and professionally. However, by raising public awareness to this condition and enabling early treatment, Nitzan has significantly improved the quality of life of many children and adults, who were wrongly discriminated. Titan, Pollyanna and YandA recommend this organization for your support. Titan would also like to call your attention to the stinginess of Israelis who like to receive from abroad, but donate very little themselves. This is in contrast with the Diaspora tradition of charity.

Titan is blowing his top this week over several major  human rights issues.

Fati, an 11-year-old girl who was injured with deep machete wounds to her head and arm in an attack by anti-balaka militia in Boali (north of Bangui) on 17 January 2014. © Amnesty International
The first is the ethnic cleansing and massacres taking place before our eyes in the Central African Republic where Christian anti-balaka militias are killing and  exiling the Muslim population. We present a report from Donatella Rivera (whom we remember from her days as Israel researcher) who is now the Amnesty International person on the ground in the CAR.

The second is the UN Report on the atrocities committed by  the government of North Korea against its own people. It describes terrible crimes against humanity, bordering on genocide and rightly compares the regime of Kim Jung Un to the Nazi regime in Germany. If you wish to join the outcry against these crimes, there are links in the Miriam Shlesinger human rights blog above.

The third rant is against the decision of the Spanish government to extradite a Kazakh political dissident to Kazakhstan where he will be at great risk of torture.
Aleksandr Pavlov, a 37-year-old asylum seeker in Spain and Kazakhstani national, is currently in detention in the capital city of Madrid.
Aleksandr Pavlov, a 37-year-old asylum seeker in Spain and Kazakhstani national, is currently in detention in the capital city of Madrid.
© Private
The fourth, while obviously not a lethal issue, is nonetheless important from a human rights standpoint. The law governing the  identity registration of transgender people in Denmark is positively medieval and must be changed. We link you to the sad  story of an American transgender living in Denmark.

Finally, Titan protests the beating in Sochi of the Pussy Riot singers by Cossacks during their attempt to protest at the Olympics venue.

Pussy Riot band members Maria Alyokhina (left) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage during their court hearing. (photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)
Pussy Riot band members Maria Alyokhina (left) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage during their court hearing. (photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is one of the few democracies  that still executes its own people.  The various states are now having trouble obtaining the necessary drugs. Lethal injection has faced  increasing scrutiny over the past decade. Major drug makers, many of them based in European states with longtime opposition to the death penalty, have stopped selling to prisons and corrections departments. The source of the drugs is moving to the forefront of the death penalty debate. Now compounding pharmacies that make  drugs to order are moving to get out of the business of drugs for execution both because of lawsuits and the unfavorable publicity. It would be nice if a constitutional amendment would outlaw the death penalty, but given the character of the American people, that is not going to happen. Indeed six states have abolished capital punishment in recent years, but there is a long way to go

We have long obtained our comics for our Silly Section from ArcaMax who supply a large assortment of comics at the cost of stomping on the odd pop up ad. Now we have learned that they censor the comics which means we can no longer trust them. For example, we posted what we thought was the Dilbert for Feb. 8, which was funny unto itself, but was in fact a rerun of an old strip.The real Dilbert for that date dealt with the difficulty Asok, who is gay, would face if he wished to return to India. Apparently gay rights are too sensitive a subject for the ArcaMax people.
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more
 As a result, we are now going directly to the sites of our comic  friends Barney and Clyde, Dilbert and the Wizard in order to be sure we are not being censored. Shame on ArcaMax.

Galileo was perplexed to find Venus (left) looked bigger than Jupiter with the naked eye - but not through a telescope. Now researchers claim to have discovered why
Galileo was perplexed to find Venus (left) looked bigger than Jupiter with the naked eye - but not through a telescope. Now researchers claim to have discovered why

Although Jupiter is much larger than Venus, our vision tells us that Venus is larger in the sky. Indeed, Venus is closer to Earth than Jupiter, but that is not enough to explain the discrepancy. We also see Jupiter as a full disk whereas we see a crescent of Venus. Galileo was the first to realise that this radiant crown  was something to do with human perception, or, as he described it, an “impediment of our eyes” which the telescope eliminated, but he  put it down to some kind of optical interference to the light from  the planets as the light entered the human eye.However, scientists have now shown that the effect is caused by the way the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye respond to images of different intensity set against a dark background. 


This week the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case brought by human rights organizations against the legality of a law that prohibits calls to boycott Israel and the settlements in the West Bank. The law is draconian and we can only hope that the judges will take the proper steps. We are not in favor of boycott of Israel per se, but the settlements are both illegal and an obstacle to peace. In any case, the issue is freedom of expression which the government now claims is not an absolute right of Israeli citizens. Uri Avneri puts the case against the law very well. We note also that a photographer put up a Facebook status referring to Barkatt, the Mayor of Jerusalem, as the mayor of the occupation. He was hauled in for questioning. Why? Because he is an Arab. Michael Omer-Man writing in +972 invites police to haul him in for writing the same thing, but since he is a Jew he will get away with it. Titan has written worse things about Israeli big shots and has not been hauled in for interrogation, possibly because of the obscurity of his blog written in English. The Israel thought police focuses on dangerous people who might have illicit thoughts about human rights for non members of our holy tribe. It is nice that our cops can do something besides taking fat bribes from rabbis or screwing up investigations to the point that criminals can win damages. In any case, those of us who favor the boycott of the settlements now have a new definition of ourselves, classical anti-semites.

What is clear is that we, whether we admit it or not, are living in an apartheid state in which Jews have privileges and all other ethnic groups do not. Avram Burg puts it much better than we could in his excellent article in Haaretz in the wake of the flap over the speech in the Knesset by Martin Schultz, the President of the European Parliament. If we look at election results and the composition of the Knesset, it is clear that that is what the people want. How to change things is a difficult question. All we can do is to rant and demonstrate. The late and unlamented Meir Kahane, the epitome of Jewish fascism, would be pleased to see that his evil ideology has become mainstream.

Recently a Knesset member from a right wing party, David Rotem, went so far as to declare that Reform Jews are not really Jews and belong to another religion. We mentioned this in a previous blog. It was, therefore, a source of some satisfaction to see him retracting and apologizing. We forgive you Mr. Rotem for certainly you know not what you do, if we may paraphrase a reforming Jew from long ago.

Thomas Friedman, writing in the NYTimes, calls our attention to something positive, for a change. On March 2, Prof. Hossam Haick will begin to teach the first ever massive open online course, or MOOC, on nanotechnology in Arabic. Prof. Haick is a professor at the Israel Institute of Technology or Technion in Haifa. What is interesting is the very large enrollment in the course from many Arab and Muslim countries. We regard this as a positive step and part of the move away from backwardness that is sweeping the Arab world. We see Arab intellectuals telling their people that the time has come to face modernity. An article by Hashem Saleh, an Arab intellectual of Syrian origin who currently resides in Morocco, calls for a cognitive revolution. As he points out, it took Christianity a long time to shape up and we note that there is still a great deal of obscurantism in the Orthodox Jewish world. Nonetheless, Saleh thinks that the Muslim world can undergo the transition much more rapidly. We certainly hope he is right.
 In the West, a cartoon or joke about Judaism or Christianity, including caricaturing the Pope, Jesus, Moses or any religious functionary, does not generate a major reaction other than maybe a laugh. On the other hand, in countries controlled by Islam the so-called blasphemy laws can carry the death penalty. Frankly, we are tired of these Islamic fanatic and primitive attitudes and we are pleased to see that Muslim intellectuals are as well. It is time to quit blaming backwardness on colonialism and to stand up on their own feet and join the world.


What If? Has humanity produced enough paint to cover the entire land area of the Earth?—Josh (Bolton, MA)
This gets Randall into Fermi estimation in which the order of magnitude is accurate enough. It is sometimes said that in astrophysics the order of magnitude of the logarithm is good enough, but that is just wild slandering or an approximation to it.

The Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem is in dire financial straits not least because its funding organization in the the US was taken for over $100 million via a Ponzi scheme by Bernie who Made Off with bundles of cash.  Eventually he was caught and sent to be a long term guest of the Feds. Here is a variation on the Ponzi concept.