Sunday, January 29, 2012

Titan is here

Titan has returned with more raving and ranting, probably futile, but maybe someone reads us.  He would like to share a picture with you that for once is not of him and his domain, but of the planet Mars.  The Rosetta spacecraft on its way to a comet rendevous picked up a gravity boost at Mars and while there took a full planet closeup.   It is gorgeous.
Thanks to Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog (just to the right of us)for bringing it to public view. 
Credit: ESA / MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / RSSD / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA / processed by Emily Lakdawalla

Emily Lakdawalla has a blog  where you can see more beautiful planetary images.  In fact, while you are there in the web site of the Planetary Society you might want to join and help the cause.
In mythology, Mars is the god of war, the Roman version of the Greek Ares.  He was the son of Zeus/Jupiter and Hera/Juno and had a famous adulterous affair with Aphrodite/Venus.  The moons of Mars are named for their sons, Deimos and Phobos.  DEIMOS (or Deimus) was the god (daimon) of fear, dread and terror, and his twin-brother PHOBOS (Phobus) of panic fear, flight and battlefield rout.

Joe Paterno the legendary football coach at Penn State University died this week of lung cancer at age 85.
Joe Paterno with players

He had a great career which was  shattered at the end by a scandal involving child abuse by one of his long time and most trusted assistants Jerry Sandusky.  We append an obituary from the Washington Post.

This new village had to be abandoned because there was no water source for cattle, HRW says
Titan has long ranted about the forced eviction of people from their homes.  This is usually done for the economic advantage of someone who has managed to buy off the local government or otherwise managed to violate the human rights of vulnerable people, usually indigenous, often nomadic or semi-nomadic.  We have seen it in the Negev region of Israel, in  the Palestinian Occupied Territories, in Alberta, Canada, in Cambodia, in Mexico and many other places including Brazil and Europe, where the usual victims are Roma.  The latest case we wish to bring up comes from Ethiopia, where the government has driven semi-nomadic people off their traditional grazing areas into villages that lack the basic services  that people need.  The sorry tale is documented by Human Rights Watch whose investigators spoke to many victims of the so-called "villagization" policy of the Ethiopia government.  In a  BBC interview the Ethiopian government tries to deny the accusations and to make a case for itself.  Titan's experience has been that the protestations of governments ring very hollow when compared to reality.

We are calling your attention to this organization and its latest campaign to protect the Jawara people of the Indian island of Andaman.  This is an "uncontacted" tribe whose privacy and means of survival are under attack by unscrupulous tour operators who use them as a human safari zoo and poachers who invade their preserve to  hunt the animals essential for their survival  Most recently the tour operator bribed a local policeman to get the women of the tribe to dance before the tourists for food.   This is shameful and I hope you will all pick up on the link and write to the Indian Minister of Home Affairs.
A Jarawa man and boy by the side of the Andamans Trunk Road
© Salomé
It seems that we can never blog about human right violations without bringing up China.   It never seems to change.  Even the cosmetic "reforms" in the runup to the 2008 Olympics have vanished.
Tienanmen Square 1989: Jeff Widener

We have a report from a human rights defender Yu Jie  who was tortured and abused in a Chinese prison.

Chinese writer Yu Jie is now in self-imposed exile in the US with his family
Mr. Yu was persecuted for his support for the Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.  Mr Liu is currently serving an 11-year jail term in China for "inciting subversion."

Mr. Yu said he was picked up by plainclothes officers on 9 December 2010, the day before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, hooded and and taken to an undisclosed location. There he said he was stripped of his clothes, beaten for hours and told that his naked photos would be posted online. He said he also suffered cigarette burns. "They verbally abused me non-stop with vulgar language, calling me a traitor to the state and to the Chinese people, and trash," he wrote in the statement. He was eventually taken to hospital for treatment and released on 13 December.
This week in the wake of recent harsh sentences of democracy and human rights activists, Chinese authorities sent another dissident, Li Tie (李铁), to prison for 10 years for “subversion of state power.” Mr.  Li’s sentence, issued by the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court, comes shortly after Chinese courts in late December handed down a nine-year sentence to Sichuan activist Chen Wei (陈卫) and a 10-year sentence to Guizhou activist Chen Xi (陈西), both for “inciting subversion”.  In addition, Chinese authorities sent another dissident, Li Tie (李铁), to prison for 10 years for “subversion of state power.”
The New York Times documents in detail the harsh crackdown on dissidents and human rights defenders.
This week also, prosecutors in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, charged a fourth activist, Zhu Yufu, with subversion for writing a poem that urged Chinese citizens to gather together to call for freedom.
The poem at the heart of the indictment, “It’s Time,” appears to have drawn the authorities’ attention for its timing around the Jasmine Revolution controversy. By one translation, it states, in part:
It’s time
It’s time, Chinese people!
It’s time,
The square is ours,
The feet are ours,
It’s time to use our feet to go to the square and make a choice.
Obviously the fear of the Chinese people has created paranoia in the Chinese government.  This is characteristic of despotic regimes that know that the people hate them.  We recall on our visits to Egypt that on the streets of Cairo there was an armed soldier posted every fifty meters or so.  Eventually Mubarak fell, but as stated so eloquently by  Aung Sung Suu Kyi, in Asia soldiers are willing to fire on their own people, in contrast to Tunisia and Egypt.  Alas, we see that in Syria the army is also willing to kill its own people.  No one is running to protect them as in Libya.  I wonder if the definition of Saddam Hussein and Muamar Qadaffi as "bad" dictators as against the impunity enjoyed by generations of the Kim Jong and Assad families and Omar el-Bashir is related in some way to kazillions of dollars invested in oil resources.  Just a thought, cynical indeed and off topic, and not worthy of a Titan.

In Malawi, violent conservatives have recently been attacking women and stripping them on the streets. The victims have been singled out for wearing “nontraditional dress” – in this case, pants. Last week, President Bingu wa Mutharika condemned the attacks in a national radio broadcast. “I will not allow anyone to … go on the streets and start undressing women and girls wearing trousers, because that is illegal,” he said, according to the BBC. “You are free to wear what you want,” the President added. “Women who want to wear trousers should do so, as you will be protected from thugs, vendors and terrorists.”
Read more. It is small comfort to know that Bet Shemesh is also in Malawi.

Recently Newt Gingrich proposed colonizing the Moon by 2020.  If anyone needed further proof that this man is a cretin, we now have it.  Let me give the floor to Phil Plait who puts things into their proper perspective very well.

Now let us turn our attention to the local scene.  We start with something rather positive.  The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has started to publish a roundup of the activities of the court system in the area of human rights.  Indeed, the news is not all that great, but it is a useful compendium and Dan Yakir is to be commended for it.
As Israel slips down the slippery slope towards fascism and repression of dissent, there is still a voice that speaks out clearly and is a beacon in the darkness.  We refer to the daily Haaretz, published in print in Hebrew and online in Hebrew and in English.   There are many thin-skinned politicians who would like to silence  this voice and legislative initiatives aimed at curbing freedom of expression are constantly coming down the pipeline.  Gideon Levy gives us an impassioned defense of Haaretz  and details what we owe to it.  It is interesting that our PM regards Haaretz and the New York Times as the greatest enemies of Israel.  As Israelis, Titan and I blush with shame.
We really are nonplussed by the latest idiocy to come to us from our fellow Jews in the  US.  Andrew Adler the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, wrote a column entitled “What would you do?”  He tried to imagine what Israel might do against Iran.  His first two proposals were merely stupid, preemptive strikes to take out Hezbollah and Hamas, as if this were possible.  The second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead showed how futile that is.  The third option  goes beyond stupidity.  Let me quote him since it is something out of Tom Clancy indeed:
Third, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies. Yes, you read “three” correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?
For a proper reaction to this we refer you to two bloggers who have written most cogently on the topic, first to David Harris and then  to Richard Silverstein in  Tikkun Olam. 
What is happening in Israel is that  Natanyahu exploits Iran as a useful boogie man designed to distract public attention from social issues such as housing and unemployment and to justify the anti-democratic legislation being cranked out by the Knesset. Everyone knows that a strong second strike capability will deter a nuclear Iran and we and the Iranians will live with MAD as the Americans and Soviets did for decades and the Indians and Pakistanis do now. Everyone who is rational here also knows that ending the Occupation should be the first priority and that it will defuse Iran as well. Unfortunately the settler-messianic tail here wags the dog. Our American hawks who talk the talk but do not walk the walk are important only to the extent that they can buy Congress and prevent Obama from leading an effective peace effort. Our sons and grandsons are in the Army, theirs are in college–it costs them nothing to be armchair heroes. Adler is an idiot and not worth the silicon spent on him here and elsewhere.  I might mention that a dinner table conversation with an Israeli woman of the educated class convinced me that Natanyahu is not underestimating the intelligence and sophistication of the public.

As we all know, Gene Weingarten has moved to the realm of social commentary by means of comics, some of which are more amusing than others.
Many of us have noted that sustainability has become a major buzz word in discussions of the environement and other issues.  This has not escaped our friend at XKCD:

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