Friday, August 26, 2011

Titan is back in orbit, pontificating and ranting

Titan and atmosphere as seen by Cassini
Titan thinks that if Pollyanna can get a picture on every blog, he should have the same right.  To the question of whether he wants mythology or planetary science, he responded with a titanic sneer.  So here he is with his atmosphere showing.  Titan would also  like to continue the process of introducing you to his fellow Titans, many of them commemorated by names of the moons of Saturn.  Meet Epimetheus (S/1980 S3), Janus' Co-Orbital Moon.

Cassini captured this view on March 30, 2005, from a distance of only 74,600 kilometers. The view is in enhanced color, comprised of three images captured through infrared, green, and ultraviolet filters. Color variations in the image are most likely a result of "photometric effects," changes in the reflectivity of the surface of Epimetheus with the angle of the incoming sunlight. The large circular crater in the lower center is Hilairea, which has a diameter of about 33 kilometers (21 miles). To the lower left is the crater Pollux, with a reddish interior. Source Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

Size: Irregular, 144 x 108 x 98 kilometers - 12th largest moon of Saturn Orbital radius: 151,522 kilometers - 2.51 Saturn radii - between the F and G rings - co-orbital with Janus Orbital period: 0.6942 days - about 1/23 of Titan’s - 26 seconds faster than Janus Discovery: 1966 by R. Walker; Stephen Larson and John Fountain showed in 1977 that Epimetheus and Janus were distinct.

Epimetheus was a stupid Titan, whose name means "afterthought". He was the son of Iapetus. In some accounts he is delegated, along with his brother Prometheus (name means forethought)  by Zeus to create mankind. He also accepted the gift of Pandora from Zeus, which led to the introduction of evil into the world. I wonder if Pandora did not get a bum rap in sexist mythology.

Before I get into my hysterical local rants let me call a few things to your attention. The pollution scandal in the Niger delta is completely out of hand.
The UN shows evidence of the devastating impact of oil pollution on people in the Delta
© Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

The oil companies that started to rape the resources of the Nigerian people during colonial times and hardly stopped for breath with independence are failing to live up to minimal standards of accountability according to a UN report. The health and well being of the people of the region are being sacrificed for the balance sheets of Shell Oil and others. The call by Amnesty International to institutional investors might have some effect. We  can also take action by petitioning and demanding government and corporate responsibility.  Please click the link above.

Wang Lihong's health has deteriorated after months in detention
© Ji Ruan

The activist Wang Lihong in China is going on trial in another attempt of the regime to put down all dissent. Here are the details from Amnesty International . Please pick up this link and take action on her behalf. Kudos to the Belgian/Francophone section of Amnesty International for their great work for  human rights.

A bit of favorable news is the movement towards the abolition of the death penalty in Benin. Let us hope that this progresses rapidly and another step toward stoppage of the judicial murder of citizens by their own government is near. On the other hand, an execution date will soon be set for Troy Davis. Please pick up this link and spread the word. This man's guilt is in severe doubt and his execution by the state of Georgia is indeed in the category of judicial murder. See below for a profile of Rick Perry who has executed hundreds in Texas and whose administration dispersed a committee that was investigating the possible execution in 2004 of an innocent man. A Texan was quoted, 'Wow, it takes balls to execute an innocent man!" Welcome to America.

This week there is much to rant about. The main news is of course the fall of Qaddafi. Let us hope that the new regime in Libya manages to keep the squabbling tribes from frustrating the establishment of a liberal democratic regime. I hear my fellow Israelis laughing and pointing out that there is no Muslim country with a liberal democratic regime and I point at what is coming about in Tunisia and hope for the future of  Egypt. There is no reason to consign our Arab friends to live forever under corrupt tyrants when they can aspire to live under corrupt democracy as we do. I refer you to an interesting analysis of the Arab Spring from the Nation, which devotes its latest issue to the topic. Indeed, one can be ambivalent about democracy and one must be careful about conflating it with liberty and liberal values uncritically:

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

~ Winston Churchill

"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."

~ Winston Churchill

    "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"

~ Benjamin Franklin, leader of the American Revolution

In Israel, as I wrote in the last Titan blog, democracy and its values are under terrible attack as they are in the US. I am tempted to write a comparison of  Michele Bachman and Avi Dichter, but it is hardly worth the space on the silicon. I wish, however, to pontificate this week on the topic of liberal vs what is called totalitarian democracy. The term was coined, I believe, by the late Hebrew University Professor Jacob Talmon (I took a course from him in 1950 and still remember the impression he made on me) in his book (THE RISE OF TOTALITARIAN DEMOCRACY. By J. L. TALMON. Boston, The Beacon Press, 1952.  ) in which he analyzes the issue. I think this is an important question for us today, for certainly Michele Bachman and Avi Dichter both regard themselves as supporters of democracy. (The libertarian philosophy of the American right is basically the elimination of a social contract and is not the topic here.)   I promise to get to it in a future blog. There are parliamentarians in Israel of Russian background who regard liberal democracy as we understand it as a form of anarchy and cannot imagine real individual freedom as a positive value, yet they certainly regard themselves as democrats as well. When a stupid Swedish journalist wrote a vile article in a Stockholm tabloid accusing the Israel army of dealing in organs of Palestinians, our Foreign Minister thought it proper and natural to protest to the Swedish government for being lax in its task of controlling the press.

I would like to give you a brief summary of the question of liberal as against totalitarian democracy from a review of Prof. Talmon's book by George H. Sabine published in The Philosophical Journal 1953. The full review is available at If anyone has difficulty with library access, just email Titan and he will be glad to send you the pdf. 

The ground for the antagonism between the two types of democracy Professor Talmon finds in a radical difference of attitude toward politics, which grows out of a radical difference of philosophy. Liberal democracy is in general empirical. It assumes that politics is matter of trial and error, and it regards political systems as mainly "pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity." In
consequence it takes for granted that human beings have many interests, personal and social, which fall legitimately outside politics. Totalitarian democracy is "based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics" and it "postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things" toward which history inevitably tends and toward which recalcitrant human nature must, if necessary, be driven. In consequence, though totalitarian democracy affirms the value of liberty, it defines liberty, or "real liberty," not as individual spontaneity or the absence of coercion but as participation "in the pursuit and attainment of an absolute collective purpose" (p. 2). Its philosophy is in origin rationalist, but it is a rationalism that has become intrinsically messianic. It thinks of human beings not as personalized individuals but as examples of a type which determines once for all what under proper conditions they may become, and "in so far as they are at variance with the absolute ideal theymay be ignored, coerced or intimidated into conforming, without any real violation of the democratic principle being involved" (p. 3).

I recall a lecture by Prof. Talmon in the late 1960's in which he complained that the liberal component was missing in the Zionist ideal of a democratic Jewish state and that we will pay bitterly for this lack.  Perhaps if we had a constitution that would limit the power of the majority things would be better.  The erosion of liberal democracy  is happening now as Titan types.

I would like to get back to right wing politics, what Richard Hofstedter called a political neurosis, and to call your attention to Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who has also entered the Republican ring.   Roger Cohen and  Amnesty International put him in perspective.

We also had a visit by Glen Beck
the right wing demagogue who was given a hero's reception by our lunatic right and drew a large crowd in Jerusalem. He is said to be supported  for this trip by radical antisemitic groups in the US. These groups are the best friends of our stupid settlers who seem to fail to understand that this support derives from a belief the they are helping to bring the Second Coming of Christ and that they will be expected to accept Jesus or burn. The large turnout did not surprise nor dismay me. I recall watching Israelis on Independence Day standing in line for free steaks courtesy of Arkady Gaidemak,  a Russian Jewish oligarch who cleaned up on blood diamonds in Africa and then came here and bought the soul of the public with a few pennies of his wealth. No other than Earl Browder, the head of the US Communist Party in the far past, said, "the masses are asses."

In Israel, we have had a series of tragic events caused by an attack on civilians by some radical Islamic group operating out of Gaza that went through Sinai, crossed the porous border and killed many people.. It was a compound of Islamic fanaticism and incompetence in the armies of both Israel and Egypt that lead to a large number of deaths including Israeli civilians and Egyptian police and soldiers. The inevitable Israeli air attack drew a response of rocket fire from Gaza and for a while it looked as though we were about to be drawn into another senseless war. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, on both sides and we were spared another full scale orgy of bloodletting, although rockets still fly.  A  man was killed and  an infant was injured  by  missile fire. The Islamic Jihad is still firing rockets and Gaza is being bombed, but let us hope a major war can be avoided. I am baffled by how this advances any cause for the Palestinians or anyone.  These escalations appear to have a distorted logic of their own.

If, as Natanyahu might have hoped, this would put an end to the social protest in Israel and scatter the tent cities, he must be disappointed. Merav Michaeli points out that the social protest is far from dead  and will go on. The government has appointed a committee headed by a well known professor of economics, but the protesters are not buying the fig leaf.     Carlo Strenger makes the point that the social protest is a much more successful, coherent and promising way to unify Israel behind a common vision than the rampant nationalism of our lawmakers.     Cornell West writing in the New York Times about the Martin Luther Memorial refers to King's feeling that his dream of a more democratic America had become, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.”  He could have been writing about Israel as well, since our government has spent the last several decades importing everything negative about America that they could find.   The four items, a modern Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, fit Israel like a glove.  Let us briefly quote, adapt and paraphrase West to Israel on each one:
  1. Militarism is an imperial catastrophe that has produced a military-industrial complex and national security state and warped the country’s priorities and stature.  Titan would add that in Israel it has provided an excuse for every evil action and created a corrupt military caste of which many leaders eventually find their way into the corridors of government power.
  2. Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists. 
  3. Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen  in the treatment of Arabs and of Jews who are not white enough.
  4. Poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people
Yes, Professor West, we both live in sick societies.  Maybe the young people in the tents on the streets of our cities will provide a cure for us.

The doctors' strike in public medicine in Israel has come to an end after 168 days. I cannot but ask myself why this had to take so long. It tells you how much our government cares about us and our well being. Allow me to show a graphic representation of this care.

OK, enough blathering form Titan for the nonce. Here is this week's  book review from the NYTimes.

Gene Weingarten is still on vacation, but we have alternative sources of humor. The following is dedicated to all the young parents we know

 and of course we have to think deeply about cosmic questions impinging on our  religious beliefs and faith in our parents and their advice.

I also have some advice from XKCD for those of us who give talks at meetings, colloquia etc.

In view of the strong criticism that the educational systems in various countries in the world, including Israel and the US, have had to absorb recently, I would like to point out that  the Walmart chain has found a way of dealing with the results of modern education:


  1. The terrorist group was NOT operating out of Gaza, apparently; nobody from Gaza claimed their bodies or set up in mourning.

  2. I don't know if you followed the discussion I had with some friends on FB about that article you shared about "Jewish Sharia", but I think I'm going to give them your blog to think about! Shavu'a tov.

  3. Judy, I stand corrected, but I doubt that the killers were sent by the Egyptian army and they must connect up to Gazan organizations.

  4. Hadass, Thanks for posting the blog. Zohar and I both read the exchange and reached certain conclusions that we will tell you about over a beer one day. The difference between our Jewish Ayatollahs and their Iranian counterparts lies only in what they can get away with. We still have some power in secular hands. It is being eroded by religious ultranationalism and the struggle for liberal democracy will be long and hard. It would be nice if we had some liberal immigration instead of the likes of Baruch Goldstein. We still have some young people like Sara Beninga(google her) and others who are willing to take part in the struggle.