Friday, November 4, 2011

Here comes Titan again

Two infrared views of a mountainous region on Titan, with snowy peaks
This week Titan is back with much to rant about, as is usual.  First, of course, a bit of Titanic self promotion as he does in every blog.  Last time he posed for the radar imagers, this time it is for the infra red cameras of our friend Bob Brown who runs the Visual & Infrared Mapping Spectrometer aka VIMS  on the Cassini orbiter.  Titan just wants to show off his high mountains that are best seen in the infrared.  Note the methane snow--why is it unsuitable for skiing?  Your answers in  comments please.

There is much to rant about this week and Titan also intends to bend your ear on what is wrong with governments all over the world.  First let us start with some nasty human rights violations.
Community activists and members of an indigenous community protesting against the construction of a wind farm in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, were attacked and injured on 28 October. Amnesty International is concerned that the death of a man at the scene of the protests may be used to  prosecute protestors unfairly and to deter future protests.  It is the usual story that we see too much of, big bucks and little people.  I am appending a link in English from Amnesty Belgium Francophone that calls for action and gives you addresses of functionaries to rant at.  You should be able to find the address and fax number of your local Mexican embassy without difficulty

This one from Turkey is hard to believe, but again it is the strong trampling the weak and vulnerable.  In this case it is a leather factory in Turkey where there is a dispute between the workers and the owners.  Now read this quote from Eric Lee's site:
"At one point the employer invited the workers to come to work in Istanbul, but refused to give them a day to find a place to live.  So workers stayed overnight in the factory.
Here's the amazing bit: the employer decided that this constituted an "occupation" of the factory and tried to call in the police.  When that didn't work, they sacked 36 workers. "
.Please act. If the site comes up with my name etc. (Eric is making it too user-friendly), erase and put in your own and then please register for Eric's network that fights for the rights of working people around the world.

Nestle is a huge food company.  It is also a prime example of corporate greed overcoming ethics.  For decades it was the focus of a major controversy over marketing breast milk substitutes in developing countries, sometimes with lethal results.  Its corporate values also spill over into its labor relations.  Please join this campaign that comes in the wake of Nestlé sacking workers in both Indonesia and Pakistan for daring to organize themselves into trade unions.

In the past, we asked you to help striking Suzuki workers in India.  96 hours after the launch of the campaign, the company had reached agreement with the union and the strike was over.  Nestle is going to be a lot tougher. 
It is terrible to have to report on the  self immolation of another Tibetan,  the nun, Qiu Xiang, 35,  in southwest Sichuan Province.   This wave of fiery suicides is a direct result of the persecution and repression of the people of occupied Tibet by the Chinese authorities.
Exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala, India, on Thursday with pictures of a Buddhist nun who set herself on fire to protest Chinese rule.

Some people might consider this an oxymoron.  There is a  global NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which is calling on all governments worldwide to ratify the Protocol. The Optional Protocol creates a new international mechanism that will enable people whose rights have been denied – and do not have a remedy in their own country – to seek justice through the UN.

As France holds the Presidency of the G20, the NGO Coalition for an Optional Protocol calls on President Sarkozy to seize this opportunity and show leadership in promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights for all, especially those living in poverty. We urge France to become party to the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR.  The G20 are meeting now in France, so  please sign the petition to President Sarkozy to get France and the rest of the G20 on board.

We have seen how the UN has failed in Darfur, Somalia, South Sudan and countless other places around the world.  I am appending a link to a speech by Simon Deng, a former slave from South Sudan, before  a conference of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the Association for World Education, and the Association of World Citizens in Geneva.
Simon Deng: Credit Heather Robinson

 I also append another speech given at the Durban Watch Conference  in which he comes down hard on the Israel bashing that takes the place of pursuit of justice for oppressed peoples.  Make no mistake, the Palestinians are an oppressed people and Titan, Pollyanna and YandA hold no brief for the conduct of the occupation forces funded by our taxes.  What has happened, however,is that of all the oppressed peoples around the world, the aboriginal Canadians forced off their land by oil companies, the Dalits (Untouchables)  of  India,

A Dalit family
the  Copts in Egypt,  the victims of anti Christian prejudice in  Nigeria and Indonesia  and many others, the Palestinians have managed to take and hold center stage.  Simon Deng describes the suffering and oppression of the black Africans in Sudan at the hands of the Khartoum regime all in the name of Jihad and Islam.  Of course, the UN and the world community remain silent about that.  China is invested heavily in Sudanese oil and therefore the g word, for genocide, could not be included in a Security Council resolution because it would have triggered automatic sanctions.  China was having none of that.  The Palestinians have managed to become the poster child of the conscience of the world.  Let me quote Simon Deng in his Durban Watch speech:
"By exaggerating Palestinian suffering, and by blaming the Jews for it, the UN has muffled the cries of those who suffer on a far larger scale."
I think that this sentence is the key.  I hate to use the arguments of the Israeli right wing who consider all criticism of Israel and its policies to be a manifestation of antisemitism.  Yet, if I ask myself why the suffering of the Palestinians (and indeed they suffer) resonates more strongly with Western liberals than does the suffering of black people in Darfur and South Sudan or of low-caste people in India, I cannot avoid thinking that bashing Israel goes back to something embedded in the Western Christian DNA.  Indeed Pope John XXIII  and Vatican II absolved us of guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus, but blaming Jews for whatever is wrong is  almost Pavlovian.   Where religious prejudice is absent or insignificant you find the canards that Jews control the world economy etc. etc.  When antisemitic propaganda catches a ride on the back of legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies, the right wing finds it easier to discredit the criticism, which is a shame and harms the cause of justice for the Palestinians.  Israel exists because Jews were first exterminated and then expelled from Europe.  Europeans may well feel guilty towards the Palestinians because of  the role of Europe in the migration of the Jews.  The establishment of Israel  could have been done with much less injustice as pointed out by Chaim Gans in his book on a  just Zionism, but the exigencies of turbulent times exacted their cost.
I would like to point out that in his Durban Watch  speech, Deng paints a far too rosy picture of the reception granted to Sudanese refugees in Israel.  Instead of open arms they were met with closed detention camps and when possible turned back at the border into the tender mercies of the Egyptian army.  When people in a Tel Aviv salon talk about infiltrators coming through the border, I usually point out that a similar conversation most certainly took place in Spanish in Madrid circa1943 about Jews infiltrating through the Pyrenees.  It makes some(not all)  people uncomfortable.

We are seeing all around the world a protest movement against the excesses of laissez faire capitalism  In the USA, Wall Street and the economic centers of other cities are being occupied by people who have had enough.  In Israel a protest movement began in the summer and is putting pressure on the government to make radical changes in its priorities.  Of course, the oligarchy is not sitting still for this and their hired pundits are filling the press with sharp criticism of "naive Utopian fantasies" and other choice phrases.  Nonetheless, the protest continues.  Last Saturday night, tens of thousands of  people came out to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to make it clear that business as usual is over and ended.  The question of how a movement like that can function without a formal leadership hierarchy is raised in the latest issue of the American weekly The Nation.  There are interesting articles there by  Melissa Harris-Perry, Benjamin Barber and others.  Locally  Stav Shaffi,

speaking before the demonstration, puts things in perspective very well and makes it very clear that this movement will not go away.  She was also interviewed by Time magazine and made some very good points.  In particular, her comment on the lack of hierarchy was very relevant: "As a movement that goes up against the most powerful force, if you act like an organization, like an institution, you lose. If you have one head, they know what to cut off. You have to be like water, to be everywhere, to be unpredictable. We work like an open code. Everybody should act their part. Everybody should act like a leader."
Titan thinks that this is in the spirit of the new politics in Europe, the Pirate Parties that have sprouted in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.  The Berlin Pirates took 8.9% of the vote in the Berlin State elections and have taken 15 seats in the legislature.

We think a Pirate Party in Israel might do well, although there is a major political issue that could shoot it down.  So far the social protesters have remained apolitical and have not taken a stance on any noneconomic issue.  The question of the occupation, the peace process (such as it is) and foreign policy could be overly divisive for such a party in Israel.  Titan and Pollyanna both think it is not intellectually honest to strive for social justice on one side of the border and the movement will have to take a position.  Certainly change, if it is to come about, will have to come through the electoral process, although the Wall Street occupiers seem to have given up on that route.
The press in Israel is full of a discussion over a possible attack by Israel on the nuclear facilities of Iran.  I find it hard to believe that adult and presumably intelligent people are actually considering such a suicidally crazy step.  The implications are  terrible, a ferocious retaliation by Iran's clients in Lebanon and Gaza that would cost the lives of tens of thousands of our citizens, total ostracizing by the civilized world and a break in relations with the United States that would be devastating.   One can only conclude that this is a political circus and that there is no serious intention to carry out such a folly.  For an analysis of this subject, we refer you to Uri Avnery who puts it much better than we could.
UNESCO has just voted to admit Palestine as a member.  For some reason both the US and Israel have reacted in a totally paranoid manner.  The USA is punishing the organization  and Israel is punishing the PA. . Titan and I fail to understand what is so terrible about the PA joining UNESCO and why we have to steal their money to make a point that itself is silly.
This week we have two new biographies of the famous movie critic Pauline Kael,

one of them with her collected works.   She was the authoritative voice on film during the 1970-1990 epoch.  The review  by Frank Rich appeared in the New York Times last week.  It is worth a read.

Gene Weingarten is in fact quite serious in his rant about what "branding" has done to the journalism profession.  Of course, people brand cattle, but now young journalism students are told to brand themselves.  I like Gene's response to a student who asked him how he branded himself: "The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle."  We invite you to enjoy the images attached to Gene's diatribe.

We also have some good commentary from Andy Borowitz on a famous bank and how it preys on its customers.
We all, wherever we live, can understand this because we all have banks.   Greg Greenberg of The Street, who lists the dumbest things done each week on Wall Street, managed to get his hands on the letter that Brian Moynihan's nice Jewish mother sent him:

1. Bank of America's (BAC) Yiddishe Mama

Moy-vey Brian! Bank of America's (BAC), so-called system "upgrade" is driving all your customers absolutely meshugenah!
As if CEO Brian Moynihan didn't have enough tsuris with a stock price now below $6, America's biggest bank -- which boasts 29 million online customers -- was struck with a new headache this week when its efforts to improve its online banking platform turned into a total mish-mash. For six days ending Wednesday, customers had problems accessing their accounts without a single word from BofA brass.
And as any yiddishe mama would say, 'Brian, bubbeleh, you don't call? You don't write? Why do you treat me this way?'
Of course, the timing could not be worse for BofA's money mavens. The computer glitches started at the same time the company announced it was sticking its customers with a $5 monthly debit card fee. And while that may be a bissell for a big shot like Brian, over the course of a year that's some serious gelt for consumers who need another expense like they need a loch in kop. So much so that an online petition at asking the bank to reconsider the farkakta fee had more than 132,500 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
Things got so bad, in fact, that this whole mishegos reached all the way up to America's main macher, President Barack Obama, who said on Wednesday, "Well, you can stop the fee if you say to the banks, 'you don't have some inherent right just to, you know, get a certain amount of profit if your customers are being mistreated.'"
To which Moynihan replied, "Butt out you yenta! I'm no schlimazel!"
Actually, he didn't say that (although it would be hilarious if he did). But he did issue a retort to the president, saying "we have a right to make a profit."
And while we agree that's truly the emmes, and Brian's bank has a right to make money for its shareholders, we don't think it was the brightest move in the battle for public opinion to tell both his customers and the President of the United States to kish mir in tuchas.
Farshtayst? We bet you do.

For the record, BofA backed down on the $5 debit card fee when it became apparent that its customers would not put up with it.  What is missing from Mama's letter are the two words goyishe kop but that might have been considered an ethnic slur.  I once had my ATM card swallowed by a BofA machine and it took me six months of phone calls and emails to get it replaced.  I learned that the bank is very benevolent and hires the graduates of the best schools for retarded children.  Nice indeed.

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