Friday, June 17, 2011

Titan is back and ranting

This may seem US specific,  but  it is a universal issue

A Muslim anti free speech demonstration in London, utilizing freedom of expression
Titan is back and wants to rant about a very specific issue, namely the right to freedom of expression. We have seen that this right, which is at the cornerstone of liberal democracy, has come under attack from the people who should be the first to defend it, namely Jews in the US and in Israel. We had the cause celebre of Tony Kushner and the honorary doctorate from CUNY and the attempt to cancel it because someone, obviously a big time donor, did not like his views on Israel. I recommend reading his interview in Haaretz.   In Israel, we saw the arrest of a human rights activist, Gideon Spiro,
because someone in the settler community did not like the opinions he expressed in an article. He was called to a police station and after interrogation was incarcerated in a crowded cell with chain smoking illegal immigrants. He called on the human rights lawyer Michael Sfard for help, but the police were adamant. Eventually Shai Nitzan, the deputy State Attorney intervened and he was released. The Association for Civil Rights protested.  Gideon is a senior member of the local section of Amnesty International and serves on the Monitoring Committee and the section sent a letter of protest (Hebrew) to the State Attorney.

The implications of all this are chilling. One of the tests of true democracy is the ability of dissidents and people who disagree with the reigning ideology and policy to express their views freely, to assemble peaceably to vent their disapproval of policy and to do all these things without fear of retribution. Tony Kushner lives in the United States where he enjoys protection of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, i.e. freedom of expression and equal protection of the laws for all citizens. Gideon Spiro and I  live in Israel where only right wingers and religious fanatics enjoy freedom of incitement and a radio station run by the Army(!!) called for violence against the left. Anyone who has ever participated in a demonstration against the settlers or the separation wall or anything held dear by our fascist leadership and its settler bosses has had the opportunity to see how the police operate. One of their favorite tactics, beyond free use of taser guns and physical intimidation is to arrest people on trumped up charges of "attacking a police officer" and the judges who reside in their back pockets will usually convict. I append a report by the Association for Civil Rights on police violence in Jerusalem. The report  calls upon Jerusalem's new police chief to "fundamentally change" what it said was his officers' violent treatment towards the city's Palestinian residents.

This week marks the annual celebration of Hebrew Book Month.  Ha'aretz, our last bastion of liberal journalism, turns the paper over to well known writers who replace the regular staff of reporters for one day.  The result is fascinating and I  recommend it to you (English edition).   
This newspaper is really all we have left  for the expression of dissent and protest.  The tabloids cater to the whims of the public, the government controls television and radio but for the moment we still have Haaretz.  Yossi Sarid puts it much more eloquently than I could in his column today.  There is also an article by the poet Haim Guri that enlightens a major struggle of old-time left wing Zionists who in the past managed to blend a desire for social justice with a dream of the Greater Land of Israel, i.e. a blind spot to the existence of another people with whom we must share this land.  It may not be relevant for all, especially the younger readers, but for me it resonated with my own past.  I never believed as he did in the Soviet Union, but I did believe that we as Jews had a historical title to the land.  My awakening began with touring in the West Bank after our return in 1968 and culminated with the First Lebanon War when I suddenly realized that Israel would and could initiate a war of conquest.

One of the strongest articles in this special issue of the paper is by the poet Nathan Zach who writes about why we should not expect this government to  bring about the return of the return of the prisoner Gilad Shalit.  Zach lays the fundamental problems of our society and country on the line in a strong indictment of our leadership.   As might have been predicted, the right wing hounds are already baying for his head.

I would like to comment on another issue that caused me embarrassment as an Israeli.  Our PM made a trip to Italy to buddy up the most despised and ridiculed head of state in all of Europe,    Sylvio Berlusconi,   I suggest you follow this link to the New Yorker article about hedonism and then read Akiva Eldar  about this not so odd couple.  I recall that Berlusconi came to Israel, fell all over us with love, suggested we should join the EU and went home and told an antisemitic joke in a news conference.  Show me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.

One of the  tricks used by our government to keep us in line is the old Goebbels gambit of inculcation of fear.  Their favorite bogyman is Iran and the threat of a nuclear war.  Thus they keep everyone trembling while making totally incredible threats of an attack on Iran, which of course could never succeed and would precipitate a major war in the area.  Roger Cohen strikes a tone of rationality that puts things in proper perspective.  Please read.

Titan has not forgotten the wide world of human rights and their wholesale violation and repression.  First let us look at what is happening with the repression of the rights of workers and trade unions.  Of course sometime the collective rants of outraged people can actually have a positive effect.

The repression of ethnic minorities in China goes on.  Tibet and Xinjiang are not alone.  The Mongolian people are being also reduced to a minority in their own country.

I also wish to protest the shameful hypocrisy of the US government that indeed turned on Mubarak and Gaddafi, but continues its support for a repressive monarchy in Bahrein.  We are told that they want to induce change by persuasion, but we all know that the navy needs a base and the Shiite majority in that country is not friendly to the US.  Why should it be?  To this we can add the pitiful relationship between the world's only superpower and the corrupt regime in Pakistan.

If there is anything that gets foam onto my lips it is the phony movement that exploits the misery of the parents of autistic children by claiming that vaccination against infectious diseases causes autism.
The question will not go away: Do vaccines cause autism? Some 1 million to 1.5 million adults and children in the United States have received autism diagnoses, and there is no clear insight into its causes. What surprises many scientists is that their findings against a vaccine connection keep failing to quell the debate, giving the antivaccine movement the potential to become a genuine public-health problem.
In February the U.S. Court of Federal Claims attempted to provide some clarity, ruling that a widely used vaccine and a vaccine preservative, both targets of concern over the past decade, do not cause autism spectrum disorders. That decision put a stamp of approval on what multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded for years: The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and the mercury additive thimerosal (which was removed from nearly all vaccines by 2001) are not responsible for the rise in autism diagnoses. “I think the tide clearly turned this year, and the court decision, more than anything else, was responsible,” says Paul Offit, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a vocal vaccine advocate. “It showed that good science does win in the end.”
Environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. responded to the ruling by comparing government-sponsored vaccine safety studies to cigarette research conducted by Big Tobacco. In the ruling’s wake, conspiracy theories and false claims continued to dominate some autism Internet forums, while television shows featured lengthy interviews with antivaccine stalwarts.
Fueling all this confusion is the complicated nature of autism, which encompasses a range of neurological disorders characterized by “social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Those symptoms usually appear at around 18 months of age, precisely when children receive many of their vaccinations. In October Michael D. Kogan of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and colleagues announced that about 1 of every 91 American children has a disorder on the autism spectrum. A 2008 study by the California Department of Public Health found that the number of children receiving services for autism in the state has risen steadily, despite a decrease to trace levels of mercury in their inoculations. Many experts attribute the growing prevalence to new diagnosis guidelines and increased awareness among doctors.
Meanwhile, the reluctance of some parents to immunize their children can lead to the return of vaccine-preventable diseases such as a measles, which broke out this past summer in Brooklyn, New York. According to Christopher Zimmerman, medical director of the New York City Health Department’s Bureau of Immunization, the virus spread quickly among children who were not fully vaccinated, including those whose parents put off the shots because of concern about the autism-vaccine link. “Measles can be a serious and life-threatening disease,” he says. “Parents are putting their children at risk by not vaccinating on time.” Across the United States, reported measles cases shot up from 43 in 2007 to 140 in 2008, and more than 90 percent of those reported in 2008 were among children who were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status.
In the midst of the ongoing controversy, scientists have made notable progress in understanding autism. A May study in Nature found that 65 percent of autistic children share a set of mutations that may regulate genes known to influence communication among brain cells. Many scientists say that environmental exposures, perhaps even in the womb, may activate such genetic vulnerabilities. Over the past three years the NIH has spent about $100 million annually on autism research. One possible trigger it has studied exhaustively and dismissed: vaccines. “Exploring the broad question of vaccines and autism is not fruitful. The questions have been answered,” says University of Utah pediatrician Andrew Pavia, co-chairman of the vaccine-safety working group at HHS.
Pavia nevertheless believes it would be worth further investigating a link between vaccines and autism once specific biological pathways are identified. To that end, his committee recommends researching whether some children, including those who may be genetically predisposed to autism, are at higher risk following certain vaccinations but in numbers too small to have shown up previously.
“There are some who suggest that scientists shouldn’t bring up vaccines and autism in the same breath, but I think we should keep an open mind until we understand the biology better,” Pavia says. Offit disagrees. The evidence has spoken, he argues, and pursuing additional research only wastes resources and gives false hope. “Parents are being horribly misled by leaving the door open,” he says.
One positive side effect of the media frenzy is that autism science is finally getting its due. In September the NIH committed nearly $100 million in additional funding from the stimulus package to studying autism. Scientists also hope to gain crucial insights into autism’s risk factors from several large new studies, including the federally funded Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation, which will enroll 1,200 mothers of autistic children at the start of a subsequent pregnancy and then track the newborn child’s first three years of development.
“This issue will not go away until there is a clear cause,” Offit says. “But the important story you never hear is that the research is evolving very quickly.”

This week we had a lunar eclipse that was most impressive.    The moon at totality was still visible, but blood red.  It was reflecting light that had gone through the atmosphere of Earth and was scattered in all directions, including to the moon.  The light was reddened by the dust emitted into the stratosphere by the recent volcanic eruption in Chile.  What boggled me was the degree to which superstition still abounds, especially in India , which  purports to be a rising and soon First World country.    People there behaved in all kinds of weird manners.   Of course, I am not being fair.  People in Israel ride around with bumper stickers with an incantation invoking Rabbi Nachman and most people in the US and I suspect in Israel do not believe in evolution or cosmology, but think that Genesis is literal truth.

I have much empathy for Gene Weingarten this week.  He writes about subpoenas envy,  i.e. he bemoans the fact that he has never been threatened with jail or badgered by the government.  I read some time ago in Haaretz that members of the Anarchist Society (sounds oxymoronic to me) were called in by the Shabak (the secret police) and warned by a charming lady name Rona that although their activities are formally legal, they are under surveillance because the Shabak does not like their vision.  I complained bitterly that these guys are getting to make out with Rona and I am ignored although my vision of what Israel should be is just as subversive as theirs and I feature on the right wing S.H.I.T. (self hating Israeli traitors) list as well as the Likud boycott list.  My late dear friend, Prof. Baruch Kimmerling was left off the Likud boycott list and felt crushed.  Yes Gene, we second rate subversives just need to subvert more effectively.

No comments:

Post a Comment